Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Jon & Erich Hoeber (screenplay), Warner Ellis and Cully Hamner (graphic novel)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss
Red is bland. Jilting its vibrant namesake, director Robert Schwentke’s pallid comic book movie is about as exciting as a grayscale rainbow. It’s a self-celebratory slog and one of the longest hour and fifty minutes I’ve spent at the movies this year. In my defense, its trailer was a calculated work of CIA-level deception — each moment is expertly chosen to give false impression that the whole is mindless fun. But mindless fun is only half right.
There’s next to nothing to say about a film this unremittingly boring. I’d stop just short of calling it a failure, but the most incredible thing about Red is that such a lackluster script attracted such high-profile talent.
The cast, including Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Mary Louis-Parker, along with Karl Urban, Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss, speaks for itself. That’s part of the problem. Red relies too heavily on big names to make the material pop rather than directly addressing the many problems with its confusing, amorphous screenplay. Surely it seemed like a pretty safe conclusion — I’m as surprised as anyone that a film this stacked could be so completely devoid of personality.
Then there’s the not-so-insignificant fact that our leading man is the most uninteresting person in the entire film. Black ops superhero Frank Moses never lives up to his reputation — pity Willis doesn’t supply his own. His character is meant to be a “romantic” at heart, but his relationship with dopey civilian Sarah Ross is just as unconvincing. Moses isn’t a compelling protagonist, and he’s shown up repeatedly. First by Malkovich as an LSD-warped CIA retiree, but also by Freeman, who is in the film for maybe a combined ten minutes.
I’m not gunning for Bruce, though. Red is an amalgam of creative failures in which his is the very least offensive. It was never going to be a great film given the inept writing of Jon and Erich Hoeber, though under Schwentke’s direction it isn’t even passable. He attempts to pawn Red off as disposable entertainment, but reneges on the ‘entertainment’ part. It’s the type of movie that squeaks by on a slow weekend, but would have been justly ignored had it been released three months ago.
Even its music is egregious. Not since Soderbergh’s The Informant! has a film been so tonally altered through soundtrack and score. Composer Christophe Beck imbues each languid scene with a false sense of energy — be it bouncy, comedic accompaniment or nondescript action orchestral — but he fails to make a case for them. In fact, his music underscores the dichotomy between sound and sight; he makes us acutely aware of what we should be feeling, but aren’t.
Collectively, Red is one massive miscalculation: criminally overlong and underwhelming given the caliber of talent on hand. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t have offered the same breezy fun as The Losers and Knight and Day did earlier this year, flawed though they were. Schwentke attempts to mend a Humpty Dumpty script by infusing it with style and enunciating its humor, but the former comes off as gimmicky and the latter is a series of embarrassing air balls. Joke upon joke was met with stifling silence from the crowd.
Red is one of the most colorless films in recent memory. In it, the acronym ‘R-E-D’ stands for “Retired; Extremely Dangerous,” but I’ve come up with an abbreviation that far better describes the experience: “Reclining; Extremely Disappointed.” — Colin