Red, the new action-comedy—is there a more ominous cinematic term these days?—features performances by Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Rebecca Pigeon, Karl Urban, and Ernest Borgnine. It may be that I've mislaid another star or two in the accounting; it's hard to keep track when a motion picture is so profligate with talent.
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One would imagine that any movie boasting such a cast would inevitably offer its share of rewards. Alas, director Robert Schwentke offers yet another reminder that cinema is not arithmetic. When Schwentke made his American debut in 2005 with Flightplan, I described the film as an example of the Hollywood maxim that more is often less; with Red, the German-born director takes that maxim and expands it exponentially.
Willis plays Frank Moses, a former CIA superspy who has been declared—for reasons that will gradually become clear, if never quite lucid—"Retired, Extremely Dangerous." (Hence the title, which the film shares with the graphic novel on which it is loosely based.) Thanks to this unwelcome status, Frank quickly becomes the object of a gaudy but ineffective assassination attempt: afterward, as he walks out the door of his comprehensively machine-gunned house, the roof collapses, in a twist on the old hard-rode-jalopy-whose-doors-fall-off gag. Undeterred, he hits the road and gently kidnaps Sarah (Parker), a service rep at the firm that dispenses his pension checks. For months, Frank has been using said checks as an excuse to call and flirt with her; he worries that whoever is trying to kill him will realize that he "likes" Sarah, and make her a target as well. Sarah, for her part, though initially miffed at her abduction by a man she has never actually met, is soon pluckily committed to disentangling the murderous conspiracy.