By Brian Lafferty
October 17, 2010 (San Diego)--There isn’t a lot in Red that is original. We get the usual shootouts, chases, and other typical action movie staples. But director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber take what could have been a standard action movie and make it both refreshing and funny. They take scenes that could have been clichés and reinvigorate them by filming and editing them in ways that are both refreshing and surprising.
Bruce Willis plays an ex-CIA operative who finds retirement boring. He strikes up a relationship via phone with Mary Louise-Parker. Suddenly, Willis is targeted for death in one of the few unique shoot-outs this year. Realizing Parker is in danger, he kidnaps her (it’s for the best) and reunites with his old team played by Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren to find out who wants him dead.
At a time when action movies lean toward the ultra-hyperkinetic, Red allows itself to breathe. Many recent action movies have fast-paced editing, with cuts lasting no more than two to three seconds, which render scenes nearly indecipherable. The editing in Red is paced slowly, even during the most intense action. This method works for several reasons. It leaves plenty of room for humor, it allows us to comprehend the action and, most importantly, the action feels natural.
I’ll explain that last point. I have no problem with fast-paced editing in general. I recall the final shoot-out in The Wild Bunch (which coincidentally stars Ernest Borgnine, who has a small role in this film). That sequence contains many shots that last less than three seconds but the action was still exciting and comprehensible.
This may look like I’m comparing apples to oranges but it’ll become clear if you’ll bear with me. The shots in Red are lengthy and slowly paced, often more than four or five seconds. But these shots, and the rapid-fire shots in the scene in The Wild Bunch I mentioned have one thing in common: every shot allows enough time for the characters to finish every action they begin, whether it be firing a gun, throwing a punch, etc., before cutting to the next shot. With Red and The Wild Bunch, the action controls the editing, not the other way around.
The humor is consistently funny. There are times when characters say a lot of things that seem to fall flat but just when it is about to get tiresome, they deliver a funny punch line, often catching us off-guard. Translation: the movie is loaded with unpredictable humor. Even if I could see the jokes coming well in advance, I was still laughing. There are a lot of funny lines as well as visual gags and they generate laughter even during the action sequences.
The pacing, dialogue and action may look borderline languid but the movie is rarely boring thanks to the performances. Malkovich is over-the-top as a paranoid conspiracy theorist who is usually right. He is the funniest. Mirren appears to be the least convincing sharpshooter but that’s what makes it funny. Freeman isn’t given a lot to do, unfortunately, except playing the typical old man who lives a boring life in a retirement home. But he is full of surprises. All of the actors bring their own distinct types of humor to their characters, making the movie comically diverse.
There are times when the movie drags, especially towards the end but it still delivered the laughs. I enjoyed Red not as a masterpiece but a well-written and atypical action picture. I love that Schwentke and the Hoebers dared to dry things differently. These people know how to craft a good action film. People accustomed to fast-paced action movies may find this film disconcerting at first but sometimes it’s nice to see something different for a change.