As a Comic Book purist, I can understand how fans of the original work by the awfully awesome Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner might get a little disturbed when the dark, gritty renegade book from DC Comics' WildStorm Comics imprint's Homage Comics imprint has become a PG-13 rated action comedy. Hey, I've gotten similarly indignant about the four-color gridded page becoming swill-on-film!
However, this isn't the case with Red! In fact... Red spanks more ass before 9 AM than most action flicks spank all day long... and it leaves a bright-red hand-shaped mark on said ass afterward.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, they added a bunch of characters, lightened the tone, threw in quips, one liners and nifty, CGI-infused action scenes with romance and lots of rock and roll and buddy moments. This is true.
How pissed must Warren Ellis be that they did this to his film?
He's not. As Warren himself points out, the entire three-issue series is a whopping 66 pages long (without ads) and, to quote him, "that would be only 30 minutes of film - if you added a musical number." If he doesn't mind, maybe we all shouldn't get our collective jock-straps in a bunch about it, right, kids? Writers Jon and Erich Hoeber expanded Ellis' story... they didn't rip it up, Hamster style, and piss all over it before igniting it for kindling beneath their coal-black witch's cauldron
It doesn't hurt that the cast helmed by director Robert Schwentke is A-List beyond A-List! You see, in this adaptation "RED" Stands for "Retired, EXTREMELY Dangerous" and Summit Entertainment has packed this flick with actors who fit that bill perfectly... Because when the big, bad ass CIA starts throwing their weight around as slaves to the military industrial complex, it's time to SEND IN THE RETIRED EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!!!
KICK ASS! Now there's a cast you can tip your hat to! Excited?
Well, Frank Moses isn't... excited, that is! Once a big-shot black ops agent that could make anything happen (short of an ABBA reunion, that is), he's now strictly suburban and leading a life that pales even to the excitement the title character of About Schmidt enjoys!
Once he traveled to far-off lands, met exotic people and killed them, now the most excitement he gets is contact the US Pension Call Center, pretending his Gub'ment check never arrived just so he can chat with the customer service chick Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), because she sounds hot! I guess he doesn't watch Weeds or else he'd know she's hot (and she is).
Unlucky for him (but lucky for us), Frank's life gets a whole lot more exciting when a Gub'ment Goon Squad is sent by CIA Agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) to look for Frank, takes careful aim at his carfully constructed life and expressly riddles his quiet suburban house full of bullets! But Riddle me This, is the Goon Squad ready for Frank? Spoiler warning... the script is longer than 66 pages... he doesn't die.
He does get a serious mad-on for the smeg-heads responsible for this particular DICK MOVE, however. Thus he embarks on a guns-a-blazin' map-hop across the You Ess of Aay first to grab his lady friend (whom he has yet to meet in person) and then to, as Joe says, "Get the Band back together!"
The job isn't easy, of course, but it is hilarious, virtually every step of the way. The action is great, the comedy is great. Willis does a rockin' job of playing another purely Bruce Willis-like character! This is good, as Willis is perfectly cast to play the role of Frank Moses. As Ellis says "it's like Bruce stepped off the page in some places." Morgan Freeman is similarly excellent as Joe, the elder statesman hitman of the group who easily springs from a retirement home and back into action. It's easy to forget the man is 73 years old here. You never worry about him breaking a hip here, only minimizing powder burns on his firing finger!
The same goes for Malkovich, who is hilarious in his role as the paranoid recluse retired assassin. He sees a spook in every shadow... and LSD experiments or not, he just might be right. Helen Mirren might just be the best of the bunch. Her Victoria never stops being the perfectly prim and proper lady, still lovely in her older age and just as at-home with a sub machine gun as she is with a fine china cup of Tea! "The Queen" gives a truly ROYAL performance here, kids!
Karl Urban even holds his own in the face of these great heavy-hitters here. Watching Urban and Willis spar here is great fun, especially when the music amps up the Aerosmith for good measure! Huzzah! Mary-Louise Parker looks good in Red! She's sexy and wide-eyed but knows when to play her character amazed vs. tough vs. waifish. Meanwhile, fellow retired agent (from the Soviet side) Ivan Simanov is menacing, funny and casually aloof as brought to us by a laid-back Brian Cox!
The cast goes a lot deeper than just the last-generation's hit squad. No, no, check this out, Sports Fans, along the way the gang runs into Richard Dreyfuss, Rebecca Pidgeon and Julian McMahon on the government side, all of whom are cooler than push-pops. And somewhere in the middle we find James Remar, Jonathan Lloyd Walker, Joshua Peace and even 93 year old Ernest Borgnine in a hilarious cameo as Henry, The Records Keeper (who, officially, doesn't exist... but then, neither do I)!
Even the bit parts have recognizeable faces, man. Don't blink or you'll miss Greg Bryk as a Firefighter and The X-Files' Chris Owens as a Hanged Man! Better not tell his daddy, CSM!
Unlike fellow DC adaptation The Losers, the coolness goes a lot deeper than just the cast. It way down in the script itself, along with the direction and the music by Christophe Beck! The script often takes advantage of the mindlessness of the action, but unlike similar films, this is used to its best extreme for the sake of great comedy... almost like slapstick... if the stick itself contained a tiny atom bomb that explodes with each slap! It's the silliest, most ticklishly aggressive shoot 'em up of its kind since Shoot 'em Up!
Let me tell you, the scene where Bruce Willis steps out of the spinning cop car in slow motion to casually fill an SUV with bullets is worth the admission to see on the big screen in and of itself. Luckily there is a lot more than just that to this film... the action is great, the dialogue crackles like Jiffy-Pop and Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich are cooler than an Eskimo Ice Maker! Yeah, man! Put this all together and Red earns Four Stars out of Five! Don't let the PG-13 rating fool you, this one is explosive. Yeah, there are those who are going to hate this movie and give all the clichés as to why it's not the film THEY want it to be. I get that, I respect that... but when a highly trained team of black-suited, heavily armed, precise and deadly assassins shows up on your un-mowed lawn to give a little lead poisoning, don't come crying to the Retired, Extremely Dangerous! To the rest of you... I'll see you in the next reel!
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