Red Yawn: Satisfying performances and a few kicks of adrenaline aren’t enough to make RED work.

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  • RED
Among the things movies have led me to believe: Every happily-ever-after couple begins with hate at first sight. The underdog always wins. And every trained killer is really, deep down, just a lonely guy in the midst of existential crisis.

The angsty assassin is one of contemporary cinema’s favorite tropes; we’ve seen it in films ranging from The Professional (Leon) to In Bruges to this summer’s The American. And while RED may find a way to make the idea a little more fun, the idea has gotten even longer in the tooth than its cast.

This one comes by way of a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, about a retired-and-extremely-dangerous—hence the title acronym—covert operative named Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) who spends his tedious days in suburban Cleveland staying fit and flirting over the phone with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a customer agent in pension services. But the boredom comes to a rapid end when a team of gunmen descends on his home—and the only way of finding out why is checking in on some of his former colleagues.

Those old friends (and enemies) include Morgan Freeman (as a cancer-stricken rest-home resident), Helen Mirren (as a British sniper) and John Malkovich (as a paranoid nut case), and they’re all having a blast playing action heroes. Director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) keeps up a brisk pace, including several wild set pieces.

But he’s also fighting against the familiarity of his central character, played by Willis with the hangdog expression that is his default “I’m unhappy” acting style. And it doesn’t help that the subplot that finds him dragging freaked-out civilian Sarah on his adventures is also fairly played out (including Knight and Day and Killers already this year). Satisfying performances and a few kicks of adrenaline aren’t quite enough to make me care if this particular gun-toting badass can find inner peace.


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Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich
Rated R

Scott Renshaw:

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