Promotional stills from upcoming movies rarely attract major attention; certainly none as much attention as the one released back in the summer of Helen Mirren, pristinely dressed in a dove-white dinner dress, manning a huge .50 calibre chain gun. Few images are quite as deliciously incongruous as seeing the highly acclaimed Dame operate heavy artillery to promote the forthcoming action flick Red, and the collective interest was heightened in learning that she would be ‘running and gunning’ alongside fellow Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, acting legend John Malkovich and, in the lead, the king of action, John McClane himself, Bruce Willis. Justifiable excitement followed. Surely the casting coup of the decade? A fine action movie, we might reasonably expect, was bound to follow.
Unfortunately, the casting is perhaps the best aspect of Red, at times a middling sort of action movie which never utilises or challenges the megastars it so grandly parades. Yes, it’s fairly entertaining to see the decorated actress who portrayed our Queen come out with lines like “I take a few contracts out on the side” (as in, you know, killing contracts). But having semi-legendary actors do wild action nonsense is a gimmick that cannot carry a film.
It doesn’t help that Bruce, for all his action stripes, does look a bit tired. Fighting scenes aside, he hardly looks like he’s trying. It’s the same Bruce we saw in Die Hard way back in 1988, and in the myriad of sequels that followed (and continue to follow – a fifth is on the way). It’s action Bruce. It’s heavy grimacing, wise-crackin’ beefcake Bruce, ticking all the same boxes as before and having the scenes stolen from under his nose by the great cast that surrounds him, including love interest Mary-Louise Parker. He’s good, but only because it’s the only thing he seems to do anymore.
Director Robert Schwentke, who spent his last film watering down acclaimed novel The Time Traveller’s Wife into an overly sentimental romantic drama, here waters down Warren Ellis’ dark and bloody comic book into something considerably lighter and hammier. Clearing aiming for that lucrative PG-13 rating, Schwentke plays for laughs as best he can, and not always hitting the mark – the always great Malkovich is badly wasted as the comic relief. Schwentke’s action scenes, meanwhile, are unaccomplished – the best bits, such as Bruce leaping madly out of car whilst shooting in slow motion, can be found in the trailer. We are treated to plenty of energetic fighting and explosions, but moviegoers have come to expect more from action flicks than just stuff blowing up.
Elsewhere, it’s merely Bourne-lite, a standard CIA yarn with numerous references to how our heroes are ‘the best of the best’ who will ‘stop at nothing’, etc. Perhaps the screenplay was written as satire but that part was forgotten along the way; how else can you justify non-ironic concluding lines like “it all worked out in the end!” Red is a mildly diverting couple of hours, better suited to idle watching on a DVD than forking out a tenner on a cinema ticket. It’s a good laugh, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film.