You would think it a no-brainer for Hollywood to be able to pull off a successful action film about a bunch of mercenaries who get embroiled in some crazy mission that spans the globe. Yet Hollywood has gone 0-4 in 2010 in trying to strike gold with this genre. In April we had THE LOSERS, which although not horrible and one of the better films in the genre, it still failed to hit its mark. Then we had THE A-TEAM in June, which was practically unwatchable, loud, and boring as all hell. In August, Stallone came out with THE EXPENDABLES with a lot of media fanfare that resulted in massive disappointment. Now we have RED, a film that boasts a more impressive cast than even THE EXPENDABLES. Like THE LOSERS it is also based on a DC Comics property that was written by comics favorite Warren Ellis. Unfortunately, RED succumbs to the same problems that have plagued its predecessors. It doesn’t present a compelling or even somewhat original story, the characters barely click with the viewer, its surprisingly not very funny, and the action is stale and unexciting. I think by now its safe to say the genre is dead in the water.

RED begins with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired black ops CIA agent who is now living a boring, quiet life in Cleveland. He develops a sort of romantic relationship over the phone with a government employee, Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), who handles Moses’ pension checks. One night an assassin pays Moses a visit and tries to kill him. With his identity compromised and the life of the woman he loves in danger, Moses sets out to reassemble his old team of operatives (John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren) to find the identity of the person who is trying to kill all of them.

The biggest problem in adapting a comic book property to the silver screen is that what may be original, fresh, and interesting for a comic book is old and cliché for a movie. For example, THE PUNISHER works very well in a comic book format because the traditional superhero is someone with powers, strong moral values, and one who always refuses to kill the bad guy. THE PUNISHER, on the other hand, is an antihero vigilante who is willing to break the law and kill anyone who gets in his way. However, we have seen this type of character in countless movies and it’s a sort of character that has mostly been relegated to straight-to-DVD action movies. The same goes for comic book series like THE LOSERS and RED. Both contain stories and characters that are only original in a comic book format, but when you transfer them to the big screen, they join the endless parade of similar films that have come before them.

Like the other films in its genre, RED is meant to contain over-the-top, humor-filled action. It has the qualities of a comic book in the sense that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It doesn’t concern itself with presenting an intriguing or even a plausible story. The film’s appeal comes from watching all these famous actors get together and banter back and forth while killing bad guys. If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it is. Just over a month ago, we saw Sylvester Stallone attempt the same thing with THE EXPENDABLES. However, I think RED is much more successful in telling its story and developing its characters than THE EXPENDABLES was. Although the story falls far short of being compelling, it at least tries to spin a little creativity into it. The plot is simple enough and it involves a list of people who were connected to a secret U.S. operation in Guatemala in 1981 that involved the mass killing of many people. The killer is going down the list of people and killing them off one by one. Again, I’m sure this story works well in a comic book, but it fails to grab my attention as a film plot. What I did like about the story was that instead of taking our characters to the typical international hot spots (i.e. the Middle East, Central America, and Eastern Europe), the story takes them to various domestic locations like Alabama, New Orleans, Chicago, and D.C. However, I kept wondering why does the bad guy want to kill our operatives? That question is never answered.

RED’s biggest appeal comes from the star-wattage power of its cast. In fact, I was far more impressed by the prospects of Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Bruce Willis all together than the crew Stallone assembled for THE EXPENDABLES. Whats more, RED has a few more surprising appearances from Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss (in a very hammy role that detracts from any interest in seeing him onscreen), and Brian Cox. All the actors have genuinely funny moments during the movie, but I feel that the director squandered his opportunity to get the most out of his cast. For one, much of the dialogue lacks humor even when it tries to. The dialogue should have been sharp and snappy like we have seen in films like MR. AND MRS. SMITH and TRUE LIES. The actors have no problem delivering the best they can with what they have to work with, but I wish there was better talent behind the script and general direction. Furthermore, a movie about old farts getting back into the game was missing one very important ingredient: Gene Fucking Hackman!! You can’t make a spy movie about old retired agents without Hackman. That’s just part of the rules. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t yet consider Bruce Willis to be an old man. Shit, he was in DIE HARD 4 just 3 years ago and last year he came out with THE SURROGATES. Regardless, RED still has an A-list cast, but it was unfortunately paired up with a C-list crew.

Another important aspect that RED completely fails at pulling off is in its action. None of the action sequences except for the CIA HQ infiltration sequence work. The action sequences take place at an airport, a parking lot, a hotel, the estate grounds of a huge house, and CIA HQ in Langley. The sequences are all surprisingly short so you better think twice before you take a pee break during the movie. Robert Schwentke, the director of this movie, clearly lacks experience in shooting action because the majority of the sequences in this film are awfully stale. Its during these moments where you wish a real action director like James Cameron or Paul Greengrass had handled the directing chores of this film. The action completely lacks any kinetic energy or any sense of flow, which is a huge problem given that we’re supposed to be watching an action movie.

Ultimately, RED is not a bad movie, but its not a good movie either. It limps along before it falls over dead. For a while, the movie delivers and a little spark of hope began to grow in me that I was finally watching a GOOD team mercenary action movie. However, it begins to lose a lot of steam halfway through the movie. The film starts to repeat itself and it becomes hampered by the fact that the villain is sort of a letdown and not very threatening. As I said before, the story tries to be somewhat original, but it doesn’t even get close to succeeding. I kept wondering why the baddies wanted our guys dead and that’s never really answered. In the end, RED is an unremarkable movie that lets its audience and its great crew of actors down. I found myself checking the time A LOT and that’s always a bad sign.

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