Deborah Ross

Gang of four

Red is not a very good film and neither does it try to be.

Gang of four
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Red is not a very good film and neither does it try to be. It puts in very little effort and, instead, relies almost entirely on the pulling power of its all-star line up: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox and a cameo from Ernest Borgnine, who is now 93. (I put that in because I know you’ll ask yourself, ‘Bloody hell, how old is he now?’ Well, he’s 93. ) It’s billed as an ‘explosive action comedy’ but the ‘explosive action’ and ‘comedy’ are so workaday even Helen Mirren brandishing a machine gun while wearing a sexy white evening dress can’t save it from its own sheer dullness. You’d think it could, but it can’t. This is a film in which the sum doesn’t add up to its stars — although all is not lost. As a study of the progress of male pattern baldness it’s fairly interesting, and goes rather like this: Going (Malkovich), Going (Dreyfuss), Gone (Willis).

Willis plays Willis, of course, although in this instance he is meant to be Frank Moses, a one-time CIA assassin who has retired to the suburbs and is a lonely bachelor. His only relationship is with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the young woman who works in the call centre where his pension cheques are handled. They speak only on the phone, and he has never met her, but he is smitten from afar. He phones repeatedly, although how he gets through to her every time is never explained. In my experience, the person at the call centre you spoke to yesterday doesn’t even exist today, but there you have it. Anyway, Frank’s quiet life doesn’t last long. Indeed, before you can say, ‘But Sharon does exist. I spoke to her yesterday and she promised I’d be reconnected by this morning...’ his house is full of armed commandos trying to kill him. Frank, it turns out, is an acronym. Frank is ‘RED’ (Retired and Extremely Dangerous). He goes on the run, abducting Sarah along the way, not because it would simply be good to have some hot totty in tow. Did you think that? Seriously? You can’t see it’s because his phone records put her in danger too? That if his last call had been to the washing-machine repair man, he’d have taken him too? You’re so dumb.

So off they trot, Frank and the totty, evading danger here and evading danger there, while gathering up the members of his old killing squad. These members are Victoria (Mirren), Marvin (Malkovich) and Joe (Freeman). Joe seems remarkably chipper for someone with stage-four liver cancer but there you have it (again). The foursome, naturally, set about discovering who wants to kill them — it involves Guatemala and the American vice-president or something — while shooting and bombing and missile-ing their way out of trouble, which they always do, even when they are vastly outnumbered. There is no tension or excitement as the outcome is never in doubt. We know these joshing old-hands are going to show the young ’uns a thing or two, and are all going to make it bar Freeman, who is black so doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile, Cox plays a Russian called Ivan because, just as this genre demands a black man to go early, it also demands a Russian called Ivan. One time — just the once — I would like to see an action film where the Russian is called Josh. That said, this Ivan does have a cousin called Timothy. I’m toying with you. The cousin is Igor.

The action in action films is always improbable and, as directed by Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveller’s Wife, Flightplan), the action here is, I suppose, no more improbable than it is in your average Bond movie, say. But it’s so familiar it’s tiresome and I don’t understand the box-office attraction at all. Once you’ve seen one big bang you’ve seen them all, surely? Once you’ve seen one car explode just as our hero makes it to safety, why would you ever need to see it again? This is the sort of film that you might watch for a bit on TV before getting its measure and then dozing off, plus its self-satisfaction is entirely misplaced. It’s done nothing to earn it. The stars? Well, while I’m sure they had fun phoning in their performances — I hope they’ve destroyed the records — I can’t help wishing they were all doing something more interesting.

Borgnine, by the way, is still 93, and won’t be 94 until next January. Just thought I’d keep you up to speed.