Monday, October 18, 2010

Better Dead Than Red

Did you ever read Warren Ellis's 3 issue graphic novel Red? It's a pretty good story of a retired spy being marked for death by his former employers. I went to see a movie supposedly based on that and my only conclusion is that I walked into the wrong theater since this movie has very little to do with Ellis's work. Oh well, I'm the one who's always saying filmed adaptations don't need to be in any way faithful so long as what they are is good.

So, was Red the movie any good? On the whole, it didn't suck. This means that, when broken down, parts of it did not only suck but defined the word "suck" for future generations.

The first half of Red was surprisingly good and made me forget that it wasn't like the book. This part of the film was action mixed with some smart characters doing their jobs in a competent manner. Mind you, this is a big studio action film so the definition of "smart character" isn't necessarily the same as it would be for movies like Inception or The Social Network. Grading on a curve, however, the characters played by Bruce Willis and Karl Urban make Stephen Hawking look like a drooling halfwit.

Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA field agent that's described as a man who has brought down entire governments but now lives a boring and mildly pathetic existence since he retired. The highlight of his current life is flirting with a service rep for the office that sends out his government pension checks named Sarah Ross. She's played by Mary-Louise Parker and I was happy to see that they cast someone age appropriate instead of Hollywood's usual style of having 55 year old Bruce Willis put the moves on someone like Amber Heard or Vanessa Hudgens. That, the movie's first action sequence and the introduction of William Cooper, Karl Urban's CIA assassin character, were three points in the movie's WIN column for me and I settled in for a nice Saturday afternoon of light entertainment.

Sadly, the movie insisted on being 2 hours long instead of being a winning 60 minute short feature. The whole thing started falling apart when, during a car chase, Moses casually steps out of a moving car and strolls along the street. This is some very fake looking CGI. This is where the movie stopped being a spy thriller with action thrown in and became and action movie with, well, nothing else thrown in.

I'm sure you all know the story from the ads. Frank Moses, for some reason, has been marked for death by his old bosses at the CIA. After he takes out the first hit team they send, the highly competent Cooper gets the assignment. He doesn't ask why they went him dead but he does get annoyed when he discovers they lied when they said Moses was an analyst and not a field agent/superman that he reveals himself to be. Moses kidnaps potential girlfriend Sarah because he correctly assumes that the CIA will try to use her against him and together they lead Cooper and the rest of the government on a merry chase across the country as Moses contacts fellow agency retirees played by John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren. Those three are amazing actors as always. It's incredible to me that they can so easily played aging spies after they played Edward, Jacob and Bella. Also, a guy who deserves bigger roles and more recognition is Karl Urban, something I've thought pretty much every time I've seen Karl Urban. You probably know him best as McCoy in the last Star Trek film. He's playing the title role in a reboot of Judge Dredd thought he'll be doing that in the shadow of the last Dredd, Sylvester Stallone, which means he should have no problem distinguishing himself in that role.

Sadly, the movie devolves into a pattern of "Go here, shoot this, go over there, shoot that" but, all in all, I suppose it's worth your time.

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