RED was lifted from a 3-issue comic series written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Cully Hammer. In this instance, adapting and expanding the much darker source material into something a mass audience who don’t live in the merciless comicverse could accept worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. The brother team of Jon & Erich Hoeber did the script, which was directed by Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, The Time Traveler’s Wife) at a cost of $58,000,000. Released in 2010 to mostly positive reviews, it placed 38th in the U.S. with a gross of $90,380,000, amassing another $108,626,000 abroad. *
Former CIA black ops agent ‘Frank Moses’ (Bruce Willis) is trying to enjoy his status as a RED (“Retired, Extremely Dangerous”), and maybe flint a spark with pension clerical operator ‘Sarah Ross’ (Mary-Louise Parker). After dispensing a hit squad that targets him for some unknown reason, Frank, with a frightened and mystified Sarah in tow (kidnapped for her own safety) finds allies in other RED’s who help him pin down (and put down) who’s pulling lethal strings & what for. Having Frank’s back are sage mentor ‘Joe Matheson’ (Morgan Freeman), paranoid recluse ‘Marvin Boggs’ (John Malkovich) and classy killer-bee ‘Victoria Winslow’ (Helen Mirren). As the pace accelerates, bodies accumulate.
Too often these old dogs-show-the-pups exercises have more bark than bite, and depending on the handling the results either summon smiles of admiration & affection or they turn your head away in embarrassment as ‘seniors’ gamely cavort trying to turn back time (and make another killing while they can). Gratefully, this time the joke & jolt picnic from reality has enough of a sense of being in on the joke (without smirking at its own cuteness) so that it works, both as actor-enjoyment and action escapade.
Willis was 54, Malkovich, 56, Dame Helen elegant at 64, Freeman, 72. Pretty Parker was the relative tot at 45. They all synch, with Bruce handling the bouts like second nature, and enjoying nice chemistry with Parker, who’s a hoot as Sarah turns from abductee to accomplice. Malkovich keeps the crazy bit at an amusing but not exasperating boil and Mirren shows she can finesse heavy caliber hardware with as much aplomb as she caresses dialogue.
Some scenes were filmed in New Orleans, but the bulk was done at Canadian locations in Ontario. 111 minutes, with Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss (always fun as an unrepentant bad guy), Brian Cox, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine (92 and hardy), and James Remar. Followed three years later by Red 2.
* Though the comics were much harsher, originator Warren Ellis seemed becalmed in a note prior to the filming: “Read the RED script. Not bad. Not the book, but not bad. Funny. Especially when you know the casting. Very tight piece of work. Talked to the producers last week. They’re all kind of giddy over the casting coups. Who wouldn’t want to see Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle?”
One funny example of a title change for a different market: In Bulgaria, this was B.S.P. (“Besni Strashni Pensii”), translated as Furious Frightful Pensioners.
Among its casual pleasures (we’d watch Mary-Louise deliver a lecture on sewing), Red rewards by seeing Bruce Willis flickering back to attention during a steam of check-collecting duds that eventually became a torrent, piling up to form an almost geologic formation, Willis Falls.