Talented Ensemble Wasted on Incredibly Dull ‘Red’

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CHICAGO – They say you can learn as much from a bad movie as you can from a good one. If that’s true, what’s the lesson to be taken from the extremely boring and misguided “Red”? Perhaps that moviemaking is not the sum of its parts and that you can’t just get together an amazing cast, shout action, and expect magic.

There’s simply no denying that “Red” features a spectacular cast with Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, and Mary-Louise Parker, but the caliber of the ensemble almost makes the piece all the more baffling. What did they see in this script? If the film featured a B-level cast and was released straight-to-DVD, no one would give a damn about “Red” but when people this talented get together there’s an expectation of entertainment that this inert comic book adaptation just doesn’t deliver.

The most often-ridiculed genre used to be video-game-to-screen but we’re starting to develop a film festival from Hell of inferior films based on non-superhero comic books. Sliding just barely above the horrendous “The Losers,” “Red” is another graphic-novel adaptation about a group of killing machines fighting the man. But while films like “Watchmen” and “Wanted” sometimes stumbled due to an over-use of style, director Robert Schwentke goes the other way and develops absolutely no personality of its own. Most of the cast sleepwalks through the piece and except for a couple of clever shots that you’ve already seen in the preview, there’s nothing colorful about this mess.

Photo credit: Summit Pictures

A half-asleep Bruce Willis stars as Frank Morris, a man who used to be one of the world’s deadliest but has been reduced to the boredom of everyday life in suburbia. Frank is so desperate to make a connection that he’s begun flirting with the representative (Mary-Louise Parker) who handles his pension and the two have developed a long-distance relationship of sorts. Before Frank can work up the courage to visit his phone buddy, he’s attacked by a group of masked men trying to kill him.

In the first of many “huh” decisions, Frank heads to Denver and essentially kidnaps his one remaining connection to the human world, assuming that the killers will next target her. The complete lack of chemistry between Willis and Parker would make this variation on “Knight and Day” unbearable alone but the pair is soon joined by the rest of the team known as “R.E.D.” (Retired, Extremely Dangerous).

Frank meets up with the cantankerous Joe (Morgan Freeman), the certifiable Marvin (John Malkovich), the flirtatious Russian agent Ivan (Brian Cox), and the smooth Victoria (Helen Mirren). The gang eventually crosses paths with a deadly younger agent (Karl Urban), a defense contractor (Richard Dreyfuss), and even the Vice President (Julian McMahon).

Photo credit: Summit Pictures

On paper, it probably sounds great. But movies don’t exist on paper. Even with all of these super-talented people to watch, “Red” is an absolute bore. It’s one of those films that mistakes apathy for cool. With glacial pacing and so little character development that I longed to spend more time in the government basement with Ernest Borgnine just because he had a little personality, “Red” drags its feet from one action sequence to the next. And even the action sequences aren’t nearly memorable enough.

Director Schwentke and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber seem unwilling to take any risks with “Red.” They think that John Malkovich shooting a missile or Bruce Willis dodging the corner of a moving car are enough to keep viewers interested instead of, you know, things like tension, suspense, or sexual chemistry. To be blunt, I never gave a damn what was going to happen next in “Red.”

The biggest problem is that if a film is going to be as resolutely shallow as “Red,” then it needs to embrace its B-movie lack of depth and at least present a stylish exercise. There’s no depth to “Crank,” but at least there’s an attempt at something visceral; something that connects. With “Red,” it feels like there’s no attempt at all. So many films based on graphic novels value style over substance. “Red” went with the third option and chose neither.

‘Red’ stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Julian McMahon, and Richard Dreyfuss. It was written by Jon and Erich Hoeber and directed by Robert Schwentke. It opens on October 15th, 2010. It is rated PG-13.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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