"Better Dead Than Red"
"Who Wouldn't Want to See Helen Mirren with a Sniper Rifle?"*
That's the word for Red. Not good. Not bad. Just "cute." I mean, what's not to like? A movie top-heavy with talent in front of the lens—in fact, there are so many Emmy/Oscar-winning actors (including Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss buried in the credits) that one wonders why there wasn't a better project for them to do than this. Yes, it's entertaining (if you turn the brain off). Sure, it's occasionally funny—it's especially nice to see Bruce Willis back in his lighter mode, reminding one of how damned good he was in his "Moonlighting" days, and John Malkovich taking full advantage of his "crazy coot" part without pretensions of doing anything serious. And it's nice to see a full cast of "mature" actors in a movie based on a comic book series, so that the potential audience demographic is as wide as Morgan Freeman's smile. For a reviewer of my advanced age (55), it is a little disconcerting to see these storied thesp's I've grown up watching (often from their first filmed roles) being sold as "old farts in the pasture,"*** despite how easily they deal with their younger counterparts, like fine actors Karl Urban and Mamet collaborator Rebecca Pidgeon, though it's presented in a somewhat condescending manner.
The main problem I have with the movie is that (timing aside), it's just another in the series of "Dirty Dozen" discarded mercenary movies we've seen so many of this year, and it's an uninspired entry, at that. Oh, sure, it's tricked up with animated post-card location bridges (that get tedious), a coy break-away editing style, and a pyrotechnic fetish that mushrooms every explosion into a lens-searing extravaganza, and the occasional "see-this-wonder-how-we-got-this" shot that is, basically, the director trying to draw attention from his actors ("I'm helping!!"). Wish he's paid a bit more attention to what was going on in the script, rather than in how to present it.
There's a little too much reliance on exposition that telegraphs what will happen in the movie (and it doesn't help that the actors tend to "wink" the importance of those lines at times). And if there's a script problem, the director just figures out a way that he can draw attention away from it, rather than make it better.
Take, for example, an early shot of a line of gun-men—a nice, easily raked-over straight line of gun-men (wouldn't even need to go through a whole clip!)—advancing on a house that Willis' character Frank Moses lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood. It looks impressive, until you realize how damn dumb it is. These jack-booted thugs (and in a NRA wish-fulfillment, they are government ops) advance on the house, not breaking formation, swiss-cheesing the house back to its foundation in the dead of night. Wow! Cool! One could make a case for "stylized comic action," if it wasn't so stupid-looking at first glance. But, remember, I said "quiet suburban neighborhood?" You actually, earlier, do see neighbors. So, where is everybody? No one comes outside, the sequence goes on for many minutes, without a dog barking, a siren in the background, someone clappering-on the lights, or an actual NRA member shouting protest. That's just dumb. And it's the first of many "fish-bowl" sequences where things happen in only a world where this movie exists, as it has nothing to do with how "the real world" works—despite playing on the populace's paranoid things about "how the real world works." One wishes that one could forgive the contrivances, but you can't, as the movie hinges on them. And as sure as a bullet wound that was excruciating a few minutes ago, will be forgotten in the next few minutes, the director will find a way to wave something shiny at the camera (right before it explodes) to make you forget. I don't mind having my disbelief suspended, so long as someone isn't constantly cutting the cable to sabotage it.
Director Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife) is more interested in the kill-shot (with minimal blood-loss) than story-logic. But, lest one think I'm unappreciative, there is a neat shot, however it was done, of Willis stepping outside his skidding car firing his gun as the vehicle cantilevers around him. Nice.
That's fun and all...even cute...but, I tend to like my spy stories to have a little more substance than cotton-candy to it, a bit more fiber, something at risk, so that when folks do go in harm's way, they do so because it is necessary to do so and the personal risk matters. So that they matter. Or else, what's the point of all the point-and-shoot? I'm not interested in watching a bunch of good actors having fun picking up a paycheck.
Still, want to know the coolest thing about Red? Seeing Helen Mirren firing an automatic weapon without so much as a flinch or an eye-blink, deliberately keeping those flinty eyes wide open, while the burly male extras playing the disposable agents firing back are fluttering their eye-lids right and left. Now, that's a Dame.
Red is a very cheap Rental.
* A quote from "Red" comic series writer Warren Ellis.
** Tommy Lee Jones revealed this (with a sneer) to be his least favorite word on "Inside the Actor's Studio." Yup.
*** The title refers to the group's designation as "Retired: Extremely Dangerous."
Saturday, October 16, 2010
"Better Dead Than Red"