Skip to main content

As it turns out, he really was being given daily doses of LSD for 11 years.

RED
(2010)

(SPOILERS) A second viewing of that latter-day Bruce Willis rarity; one of his movies where seems to be making an effort and engaging with the material. I selected it as a double bill with this year’s sequel and, for all the common complaint that RED’s an agreeable movie that refuses to stick in the mind 10 minutes after it’s over (I have to admit that, Malkovich aside, that was also true for me), it holds up to a repeat encounter.


This also makes it an even rarer of beasts; a decent movie based on a DC comics property (albeit a relatively obscure one). Appropriately and/or ironically, given said quality issues, Warners weren’t interested in making it and it eventually ended up with Summit Entertainment. The signs still weren’t necessarily all that positive. On screenplay duties were Jon and Erich Hoeber. Responsible for the entirely hokey Whiteout, they would go on to pen the abysmal Battleship. Robert Schwentke, a German director of some ability but not known for picking strong material, then signed on (Flightplan; he would compound this status with R.I.P.D. last summer, one of the biggest bombs of the year).


Most iffy was the casting of Bruce Willis in the lead, a star whose choices were haphazard at best and who appeared to have left his funny bone back in the ‘90s. This was, after all, supposed to be an action comedy (again, a potential warning sign, as it diverged from the played-straight comic book). Willis occasionally delivered, but more commonly he plumped for impassive action roles, as if ashamed of the wisecracking persona that made his name. He continues on a trajectory that is nothing if not erratic; 2012 found him in a duo of decent movies (Looper and Moonrise Kingdom) only to piss all over the franchise that made his name in A Good Day to Die Hard. Fortunately the rest of the casting details soon emerged and added a modicum of promise; Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine and Malkovich (replacing John C. Reilly).


Retired, Extremely Dangerous” is the meaning of the acronym title. Whether it should be called RED or Red depends on whether you’re the movie poster or anyone else, it seems. The premise of a retired CIA agent, living in quiet Cleveland suburbia and livening up his day by calling the woman at the pensions department (Mary Louise Parker) might summon the unpleasant odour of the Bruce Willlis in witness relocation movie The Whole Nine Yards (another surprise – minor – success which fostered a roundly ignored and unwanted sequel).


But Schwentke, who hadn’t tapped his comic muscles since 2003’s Eierdiebe, proves adept at both the action and the laughs. The opening attempted hit on Willis’ Frank Moses at his home, as he effortlessly turns the tables on his would-be assassins, is played fairly straight – as is a later messy fight between Moses and Cooper (Karl Urban), the CIA agent charged with hunting him down. But the interplay between such moments is quirky and self-conscious, and on occasion there is a full-blown comedy action bonanza; Malkovich’s Marvin facing down a bazooka with a bullet being the most excessive and surreal example (and then there’s the hilariously OTT shot from the trailer, as Willis effortlessly steps out of a skidding car while firing at Urban).

Sarah: Did you vacuum?
Frank: A little, yeah. It was messy.


If Willis is more relaxed and charming than he has been in years, the lion’s share of the laughs goes to Malkovich. I never would have expected Willis and Malkovich to have such good chemistry. Paranoid and moderately unhinged, but not without good reason (“As it turns out, he really was being given daily doses of LSD for 11 years”), the movie’s best conceit is that Marvin is right about everything (when he pulls a gun on an “innocent” woman, Frank calls him off; later the same woman reappears armed with aforementioned bazooka). His enthusiasm for returning to the field is disarmingly innocent (“I’m getting the pig!”) and the sight of Malkovich, disconsolate and uncertain, holding his prized plush porker by the tail, is one of the actor’s greatest onscreen moments ever. Up there with his Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons.  

Marvin: I miss all this. I haven’t killed anyone in years.
Frank: That’s sad.


The screenplay dutifully caters for each of the assembled veteran actors, though. Half the fun is seeing the unlikely but surprisingly seamless marriage of styles. Mirren is wonderful as the ex-MI6 agent who misses the life of assassinations (“I do take the odd contract on the side”) and her rekindled romance with Brian Cox’s big-hearted Russian is rather sweet. Meanwhile, Dreyfuss has a lot of fun with his character’s unrepentant villainy. Parker has the comedienne skills to pull off her sub-Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone role (the office girl who dreams of adventure), but the writers only ever give her predictable character beats (her “I was hoping you’d have hair” to Frank shows Willis an amusingly self-deprecating light).


All this fun with the character interactions ensures the plot itself was always going to play out as something rather incidental. So, when the film has to steer itself back round to dealing with revelations and resolutions during the final third, it elicits little more than a shrug. There are a few ill-advised moments along the way (faking Freeman’s death, then actually killing him) but mostly Schwentke judges the playful, flippant tone right. His postcard transitions between locations aren’t terribly successful, and the choice of rock music on the soundtrack when an action sequence kicks in shows plain poor judgement (there’s no excuse that he is parodying ‘80s action movies).


RED had me hoping against the odds that Bruce had finally got his groove back, and his subsequent reteaming with Wes Anderson seemed to confirm it. Sadly, I have to conclude that on the whole he’s really not that much fun any more. Just look at his litter of sadly undiscerning aging action turns in the last couple of years (Expendables 2, G.I. Joe 2, Die Hard 5). Occasionally he gets lucky (or perhaps he is on best behaviour, genuinely invigorated by working with an auteur; that would certainly explain why he caused Kevin Smith so much grief), so it’s worth savouring the slim pickings.


***1/2


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.