RED banding together a group of old-timers for a modern-day thriller – this isn’t a new idea, but sometimes it can be a rewarding one.
Clearly where it didn’t pay dividends was with 2010’s The Expendables, which went wrong, because that was a typical 21st Century excuse for Sylvester Stallone’s poor directing ability to disappear up his own backside. Now Bruce Willis gets a second crack of the whip at this task, following his (wisely) brief appearance in the aforementioned movie, by appearing alongside proven talents in Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman, the latter of whom harks back to The Blues Brother by exclaiming at one point, “We’re getting the band back together!”
Of course, Bruce isn’t exactly planning to draw his pension just yet, as he’s planning to portray John McClane in Die Hards 5 & 6 before hanging up that smelly old vest, but in RED, it’s his character Frank Moses who is having pension issues and he’s having to routinely phone up his provider regarding the cheques that apparently aren’t arriving. That said, this is just an excuse to speak to the soft-voiced Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a bored telephone representative who wants to break out and go travelling far and wide.
They’re about to meet up as he’s about to pay a visit to Kansas City, but it’s not strictly a social visit. Some bad guys have broken in and shot up his house in the middle of the night and he believes they’re after her, too, and this all stems from a list of certain people that’s doing the rounds including a now-deceased New York Times reporter and could soon include Joe Matheston (Freeman), currently living in a retirement home with a terminal disease, Victoria (Mirren), once an expert killer in her day but now more into her cake-making and flower-arranging and Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), a man who’s completely nuts and always thinking the government is out to get him, but who’s out to get them all in this movie? That’s the question…
Thankfully, RED succeeds where The Expendables failed as it just doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It also excels in having a cast that, in the main, bond together particularly well as Frank and Sarah go from state to state to recruit everyone they need, including Brian Cox as Ivan, a Russian with a shady past (or at the very least, a shady accent!), okay, a bit of a cliché for a film like this, but it succeeds at sending up it’s own genre so you can forgive it. For me, the only one who doesn’t quite fit into the mix is Malkovich, as he’s just not as effective as he should be.
Throwing in decent support is Karl Urban as the CIA agent on their tail, who isn’t prepared to let them run about causing mayhem and explosions wherever they go, plus a brief appearance from Richard Dreyfuss, who co-starred in a few episodes of Parker’s most recent season of Weeds, and a surprising choice in Julian McMahon as the Vice President who is far too young for someone who’s meant to have wielded such power for the past 30 years as an element of the threadbare plot stretches back to a situation in Guatemala in 1981. The man’s 42!
If you’re wondering, RED stands for Retired: Extremely Dangerous, as all the key cast are retired CIA agents but they’re out for one last hurrah… well, until the inevitable sequel comes along.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio and in 1080p high definition, the picture is sharp and detailed, representing the bold colours, scenery and action perfectly. It’s brilliantly directed by Robert Schwentke who produces Well-framed shots and implements clever use of the camera spinning around to capture all the action, even in a quiet scene. However, when all hell breaks loose from time to time, as it does, it proves it’s urprisingly violent for a 12-certificate.
The sound is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, for which I got the 5.1 DTS version and it excels when it comes to explosions and gunfire, which is in abundance when it really gets going, but there is one major issue with the soundtrack. After about 25 minutes, the sound goes ever so minutely out-of-sync on the DTS soundtrack and rather indiscriminately, so it’s just enough to be both noticeable AND very annoying when it comes to seeing everyone’s mouth movements not quite matching up. In over 70 Blu-ray discs I’ve reviewed, this is the first time I’ve ever come across it so I know it’s not me. It’s a shame as, otherwise, the audio would’ve scored a 10.
The extras are pretty thin on the ground and are as follows:
- Access: RED: This comes in two parts, firstly you can view the film with picture-in-picture interviews and behind the scenes footage over selected scenes. Basically, it’s rather like a visual audio commentary but with some extra content from time to time, with chat from key cast members, an expert’s comments on CIA procedure, info about controversial CIA operations and various other facts. An additional option is a Trivia Track that runs concurrently and replace any subtitles selected.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (8:40): There’s 10 scenes here, but with a total running time of just under 9 minutes, there’s nothing that screams “Put me back in the movie. I’m necessary!” – in fact, the extended ones are often just a few seconds extra in length and there’s only one deleted scene, which is rather redundnant.
- Audio commentary: From retired CIA field officer Robert Beer.
The menu features film clips placed amongst bizarre animation such as the cast adorning shooting gallery targets to a short piece of the theme. There are subtitles in English only and it could do with a few more chapters at 18 over the 111-minute running time. I go by the rule of thumb of one every five minutes, taking into account one each for the opening and closing credits.
These extras are okay, but for such a major release I would’ve thought we’d get many more, especially as the sticker on the front proclaims: “Packed with hours of special features”, although the bulk of these are clearly based on the score and audio description. We’re also missing around 20 minutes of footage used on the US release entitled, X Marks The Spot, a series of mini-featurettes used as a feature-length picture-in-picture track, although only filling around a sixth of that time.
The menu features clips of the film set against the movie’s theme. There are subtitles in English and 10 other languages and, thankfully, 20th Century Fox are one of the few distributors still putting a decent number of chapters into their Blu-rays and DVDs. This one has 32 over the 132-minute running time.
Running time: 111 minutes
Released: February 14th 2011
Cat no: SUM51444R0
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Robert Schwentke
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian
Screenplay: Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Music: Christophe Beck
Frank Moses: Bruce Willis
Sarah Ross: Mary-Louise Parker
Marvin Boggs: John Malkovich
Victoria: Helen Mirren
William Cooper: Karl Urban
Joe Matheson: Morgan Freeman
Cynthia Wilkes: Rebecca Pidgeon
Henry: Ernest Borgnine
Gabriel Singer: James Remar
Ivan Simanov: Brian Cox
Alexander Dunning: Richard Dreyfuss
Robert Stanton: Julian McMahon
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.