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Movie Review: Red Is Graphic, Though Hardly Novel

Helen Mirren in Red.

As ex-CIA agents mysteriously targeted for assassination in the comic thriller Red, mellow ironist Bruce Willis and wild-eyed paranoiac acid casualty John Malkovich bicker a lot and then pull out rocket launchers and turn their foes into a mass of flying (CGI) body parts. The audience at my preview screening ate that carnage up, going nuts for the mishmash of camp and extreme gore.

Based on yet another graphic novel, the movie has an aura of hipness and a cast to die (in a hail of gunfire) for: not just Willis and Malkovich, but Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, and Richard Dreyfus high on hog. It’s second rate, though — nothing can quite get it airborne. Malkovich is in there working hard and getting more laughs than the script deserves; Mirren is the embodiment of Anglo-Saxon chic in her sleek white gown firing automatic weapons; and Cox has a moment or two as the pickled, lovelorn Russian agent who never got over her, even after she put three bullets in his chest. But only Parker, as a mousy little number who gets dragged on the lam by Willis, transcends her material, cramming the maximum number of whimpers, eye-pops, slow burns, and dizzy bits of business into the minimal amount of screen time. When she falls in love with Willis, though, she recedes, with nothing left to play. You don’t see Willis acting facetious. He just is facetious, one degree separate from the character’s situation, so at home in his action-comedy persona that the thought of him running from assassins seems absurd. He could just have them thrown off the set.

Photo: Summit Entertainment