Red Robert Schwentke

Red Robert Schwentke
Red is a film where Helen Mirren makes packing heat look regal. It's also a star-studded, near-geriatric action comedy. And, most importantly to some, it's the first film based on one of mad bastard genius Warren Ellis's graphic novels. In this case, the source material is a graphic novella, leaving the scriptwriters a lot of space to fill in order to expand it to a feature-length story.

Bruce Willis stars as Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent who passes the time flirting with his representative at U.S. Government Pension Services by intentionally "not receiving" his cheques. The coy exchanges between Frank and Sarah (Weeds' Mary-Louise Parker, playing a sweeter version of Nancy Botwin) are the beating heart of the film, especially once Frank ends up kidnapping Sarah for her own protection on their first date. Someone has put a hit on Frank, obliterating his nice suburban home in a hail of gunfire and he rightfully fears they'll go after the only person he's on record interacting with.

It's a bit of a slow starter, but steady high-pace action sequences keep the momentum flowing until Frank begins putting his old team back together. Enter the Malkovich. Morgan Freeman shows up first as dirty old pensioner Joe Matheson, but it's when Frank pays a visit to Malkovich's Martin Boggs (a role originally attached to John C. Reilly) that Red hits its stride. An extreme paranoid, who was the subject of a military mind control experiment involving regular doses of LSD, Boggs lives in a hilariously camouflaged bunker and has a childlike love of explosives.

Malkovich is no stranger to insanity or intensity, but here he invests Boggs with a spaced-out innocence contrasted by incisive realism. Brian Cox shows up to lend a hand as a former Russian adversary of Frank's whose perspective has softened with age and Helen Mirren is charming, flowing with grace as a stone-cold killing machine addicted to the thrill of packing heavy artillery.

Schwentke displays dynamic filmmaking sensibilities, his cameras swooping and circling, but struggles with tone; he never fully commits to the ludicrous action that produces some of Red's biggest laughs and thrills. With Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss and Karl Urban providing excellent additional support, there's enough talent thrown around to keep things interesting even when the run-time starts to drag.

It may not be the hardboiled, hyper-violent lone-wolf story Ellis fans are familiar with, but it's a fun variation on his themes that'll play for a much broader audience. Also, Helen Mirren looks stunning wielding a sniper rifle; how can that be anything other than awesome? It can't. Go see it. (eOne)