Frank Moses is a retired black-ops CIA agent now living a quiet life, his only excitement coming from repeatedly phoning his pension services representative, Sarah, to flirt. But when it becomes clear someone wants him dead, he has no choice but to go on the run, taking Sarah with him. As he uncovers a deception which goes back to a previous mission, he realises that to survive, he'll need to find and put together his old team, all ex-assassins who have been labelled RED: Retired, Extremely Dangerous...
It would seem 2010 has been the year that those graphic novels that have that certain 'something different' about them have made it onto the big screen. Of all of those films we've seen, this would arguably be the most formulaic. Plenty of action, quirky characters, cute love story, nice plot to keep everything together, nothing particularly special. However, looking at this film, I can't help but draw comparisons to another film I've seen this year. Veteran, star-studded cast? Lots of gun fire and big explosions? Yes! It's the DC Comics version of The Expendables! But don't be put off by that. DC obviously knew what they were doing, clearly they knew that Red was a far stronger story than The Expendables or else they wouldn't have released 2 months after Sly Stallone's action dud. And wouldn't you know it, they were right.
The big difference for me is that whilst Red does have a packed cast of well-established, veteran star actors and actresses, it doesn't completely go all out and cast every single role in the film with a name actor like The Expendables did. It was just too much, and Red dials it down to a much more manageable level. As well as that, there's an actual story in Red that keeps all the gun fire and explosions in context. Although said story may be a tad unbelievable, you have to understand we're entering the realm of the graphic novel, so it's allowed a few liberties I'd say. The Expendables tried taking itself seriously and it backfired. Spectacularly.
Bruce Willis plays the same role he's been playing and playing well for the last 22 years; he indeed plays John McClane again under the guise of Frank Moses, albeit a highly trained version of John McClane. Mary-Louise Parker plays the same kind of role she's been playing for 6 seasons on Weeds; the cooky, off-centre female with near-deadpan delivery of lines which have come to define her as an actress. John Malkovich is really entertaining as Marvin, who has developed paranoid tendencies after being given daily doses of LSD for 11 years (in that case, he looks great, fantastic). He doesn't go too over the top with the paranoid weirdo persona, but rather plays with it well and makes it work within the film. Helen Mirren also appears an ex-assassin now running a quiet B&B (whilst taking a few contracts on the side) and she's very good, as always, and very British, as always. Amongst all this, Morgan Freeman seems to get lost, even though he's very important to the plot. It's not to say he puts in a bad performance, it's just not a particularly strong one. Karl Urban, the new Judge Dredd, puts in a good performance as well as CIA Agent Cooper, the man tasked with tracking down and killing Moses. Perhaps the next Bruce Willis?
The action in the film is good, highly entertaining, and it's laid on thick and fast. I don't think you get more than 10 minutes after the initial action sequence where there isn't a gun fired, an explosion happening or a fight breaking out. Whether or not you care though, it's almost entirely unbelievable. Stopping a rocket propelled grenade by firing a bullet exactly at the tip of the rocket? Stepping out of a car as it's going into a tail spin and then walking away as the car spins past you and misses by an inch? Helen Mirren firing a machine gun? As I said before, this is a graphic novel adaptation, so it's always going to have the element of fantastical action and that makes this a good bit of escapist fun. It's fun to see thing explode. It's fun to see these famous, well-established actors go outside their comfort zone (except Bruce Willis). It's fun for people to get shot. It's a fun film!
Overall, this isn't a great film, but in no way is it a bad film. You'll have seen better films this year, even better comic book/graphic novel films, but you could certainly see worse films this year, God knows I have. I did say that 2010 was the year of the 'something different' graphic novel film and this is no exception. The film's adamant on having an actual plot and storyline and that makes you forget at times what exactly its source material is, but the OTT action and near-impossible scenarios certainly ground it. If you went to see The Expendables at the cinema, I'd recommend going to see this so that you can see how the 'star-studded action film' should have been done in the first place.