RED, starring Bruce Willis

It’s too dramatic to be a comedy-with-dramatic-themes and too silly to be a drama-with-jokes. They should have picked one genre and gone with it instead of flailing around between the two. “It’s a dramedy!” you say, but no, it actually isn’t, because the genres do  not seamlessly mesh–they crash sloppily.

The premise is riveting: in 1981, a young Lieutenant commits mass murder when an “action” in a Guatamalan village goes wrong and every man, woman, and child in the village is killed.  His father is a US Senator who engineers a cover-up. No one has peeked under the covers until now–present day–when a New  York City reporter finds out that the one-time Lieutenant is none other than the current Vice President of the United States. The reporter gets sloppy, lets word out that she knows about the cover-up and is about to plaster it on Page One. She is murdered. Then, one by one, all those who had been part of the cover-up turn up dead. Also on the hit list, retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis). The VP’s hit squad comes after him at his home in the middle of the night, blasting it with so much firepower, I thought it would collapse on itself from perforation.

This is not thematic material for a comedy. This is serious stuff, and if they had made the movie as a thriller, I would have been on the edge of my seat. But they threw in so much nonsense, it takes the satisfaction right out of it. Here’s satisfaction in a thriller: remember the end of The Departed when Mark Wahlberg walks away down the hall? That works. This movie takes incredibly serious scenes and juxtaposes them next to complete stupidity.

I wanted to like this movie because I want to like Bruce Willis because (name-dropping alert) his daughter went to school with my daughter, and truly, I did like Mr. Willis and his character Frank Moses. I didn’t even mind that his love interest is decades younger than him, because c’mon, art may as well imitate life on occasion. I also liked Karl Urban playing Agent Cooper. His entire performance could be picked up and moved to the Serious Version of this movie without one hitch. When he learns that Moses is at his house and that his children are in danger, his reaction is dead-on correct. Of course, we don’t feel any suspense at all because we know Moses and crew are a bunch of jokers in a film they must have thought was some sort of Oceans Goes CIA farce. 

Helen Mirren is fantastic, and the moment where she swaps her stilletos for combat boots is classic. At least she knows (as Agent Salt does not, apparently) that a woman in a dangerous spot needs a good pair of practical shoes. But the idea that an MI6 agent would fall in love with a Soviet agent and live to tell the tale is ludicrous.  Can MI6 agents retire in the US? Really?

Here’s a weird scene: Morgan Freeman, retired CIA Agent Joe,  lives in an assisted living facility ogling girls’ behinds. One of Vice President Stanton’s thugs comes to murder him. Moses hears from the Facility that Joe’s been murdered, however, Joe later shows up! How did he convince the Ogled Ones that he was dead when in fact it was the assassin who bought it? They don’t let us know how he pulls off this bit of trickery, so we have to guess that he played dead long enough to steal the ambulance he arrives in later just when an ambulance is needed.  Never mind. I like Freeman as Mandela, so I’ll let this slide. You’ve got to give people some slack sometimes.

In short, the actors are fine. The script is a mess. It is apparently written by two brothers. Maybe one of them wrote a comedy version, the other wrote a drama version and they spliced it all together. The end is a horror–cheap, mocking potshots at former Soviet slave-states are not funny.