Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: March 13th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
One of my favorite professional wrestlers to watch is Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. He wasn't the biggest or loudest guy to perform in the squared circle, but the technical skills and all-around professionalism more than made up for it. He was so good that nearly every man that stepped in the ring with him for a match ended up looking like a million bucks by the time it ended; win, lose or draw. Sadly, an unexpected neck injury ended his career prematurely. Although it was theoretically possible to press on, Steamboat decided to hang up the boots instead of push his luck. Looking back, it was probably the best possible decision. He had a great legacy and to this day lives in better health than a good portion of his fellow war-torn ring veterans. As years passed however, I often wondered if we would ever get to see The Dragon wrestle one last match for old times' sake. I couldn't shake off the hunch that there was still some fire burning within that heart. Then came Wrestlemania 25. Fifteen years after calling it quits, The Dragon returned from exile to participate in a special attraction tag team match and proved that he could still kick some butt as if the 1980s never ended.
Ricky Steamboat's legacy is a lot like the team of Central Intelligence Agency retirees featured in Red; an adaptation of the Homage Comics series. They are over the hill but remain extremely dangerous and ready to raise hell all over again when the time calls for it. The agents are awaiting the right moment for their epic comeback; to show the world that they've still got it. As you can see, I get enthused by crowd pleasing movies like this. That's why it's still somewhat of a struggle to understand the reasons why I didn't like this one.
Bruce Willis plays former black-op Frank Moses, living in quiet yet restless retirement. The peace abruptly ends when a squad of assassins raid his home. After narrowly escaping termination, Frank retrieves his over-the-phone girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) from danger before making contact with his former CIA colleagues in the hopes of learning why they had been targeted. A few interviews later and it becomes clear that everyone in the group is connected to a political cover-up. If they don't act quickly enough, corruption will win and the resistance team will find themselves six feet under faster than their wills expect. But if they succeed, it's a last hurrah for all.
Comic book films like this often fall in one of two different categories. The realistic type with its own themes and ideas while borrowing the source material for guidelines on story advancement. (i.e. Batman Begins) And there's the stylish type that wants to visually imitate what the original artists envisioned (i.e. Watchmen). I've never read the original comic series but it's obvious that the latter option was chosen. The blocking and camera sight selection match up how a typical comic illustrates a scene. Since it's a globe-trotting tale, city welcoming signs are used to introduce story chapters which is a nice touch. I don't have many gripes over the choice in presentation. It's the failure of blending it well with the more complex production aspects that brings the enjoyment down.
Red wants to be humorous the whole way through and tries too hard to get there. Instead of the dialogue flying right off the pages, it sounds more like it's being read directly from the page. Improvisation seemed to be kept to a minimal. That strategy should be left for projects that require a more serious tone.
The casting is great when examined through individual cases. It's all for nothing when certain actors are forced to work scenes together without having any natural chemistry. Not to imply they are bad actresses, but Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker contribute to some of the most awkward scenes for some odd reason. And speaking of Mirren, I find it amusing how a good portion of Red's promotional campaign involved showing off her character amounting massive destruction with a big machine gun. It is funny, don't get me wrong. Seeing a former Queen of England stand-in involved in that kind of scenario definitely helped bring some attention to my radar. What would have been wiser is saving that moment for a big payoff because now the movie cannot live up to the bar it set for itself.
Despite life and death hanging in the balance through every minute, the characters are having a blast revisiting the prime of their lives. For me, it felt like tagging along for the type of nostalgia trip that is fun while it lasts but the desire to do it over comes when the realization of unexplored potential sets in.