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Should I Watch..? 'RED' (2010)

Updated on April 5, 2022
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Poster for "RED"
Poster for "RED" | Source

What's the big deal?

RED (acronym for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous") is an action comedy film released in 2010 and is loosely based on the short comic book series of the same name by Warren Ellis & Cully Hamner. The film follows a recently retired CIA operative discovering that he and his old colleagues are designated as high-risk targets by their former employer and must go on the run in order to survive assassination. The film stars Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban and Helen Mirren. The film is very different from the comics, which are much more serious and violent in contrast. Nevertheless, the film received mostly positive reviews from critics and ended up with global takings just shy of $200 million. A sequel - RED 2 - was released in 2013 and a third is presently in development (as of February, 2016).


4 stars for RED

What's it about?

Frank Moses is a recently retired CIA operative living a dull, single life in Cleveland. His only real contact with the outside world is via frequent phone conversations with Sarah Ross who works at the GSA Pension Office. To Frank's surprise, a team of CIA-trained assassins turn up in the middle of the night and attempt to kill him - but Frank fends them off, killing them instead. Realising that his former employers are now after him for some reason, he sets off to rescue Sarah as he rightly believes that she is also in mortal danger.

After contacting his old CIA mentor Joe Matheson for advice, Frank and Sarah discover their names on a hit-list belonging to CIA Agent William Cooper. After contacting paranoid conspiracy-nut and former CIA agent Marvin Boggs, the team must contend with Cooper's numerous attempts to take them all out whilst unravelling the mystery of what links the names on the hit-list and why they're being targeted...


What's to like?

Cliché-ridden and hackneyed it may be but nothing stops RED from being an entertaining blast from start to finish. The aging cast give the film their everything and actually, it's amazing how thrilling it is to see the likes of Mirren blasting countless baddies away with some serious military hardware - this is The Queen, after all! Willis and Parker make a great couple and provide a romantic nucleus for the chaos to erupt around them. But without doubt, the MVP is Malkovich who is having the time of his life as the mentally unhinged Marvin. None of the cast are especially known for their comedic roles but the film has plenty of laughs to enjoy as well.

Part of the film's appeal isn't just reserved for seeing these respected, veteran thespians engaging in heavy-duty action scenes or even the old-vs-young theme. The film has roped in some surprising cameos from similarly venerable actors which I won't surprise for you here. But their appearance gives the film another element as you truly never know who's going to turn up next. It feels like seeing aging rockers having one final concert with maximum pyrotechnics and playing all the old favourites. Few films have as great a sense of fun as this.

Malkovich (left) is on scene-stealing form opposite the likes of Freeman (right)
Malkovich (left) is on scene-stealing form opposite the likes of Freeman (right) | Source

Fun Facts

  • The purse that Mirren's character uses as a weapon actually belongs to Mirren herself. It was a gift from Giorgio Armani and Mirren thought it went well with her costume.
  • Urban plays an American while Cox plays a Russian but when they appeared in The Bourne Supremacy, this situation was reversed. However, neither actor is American or Russian as Cox is British and Urban is from New Zealand.
  • This is the first film based on a DC Comic not produced by Warner Bros. They simply weren't interested in a film and eventually gave DC Comics permission to approach another studio. This film is produced by Di Bonaventura instead.

What's not to like?

It seems churlish to criticise a film I enjoyed as much as this but alas, it's not the sure-fire hit it seems to think it is. Most action movie audiences demand more than simple explosions and excessive gunfire - a great action movie should stand out from the crowd and have what marketing types call a "unique selling point". And that's the one thing that RED doesn't possess. The action is certainly entertaining and the humour is also very good but the film doesn't really excel at anything. It also feels slightly derivative - the subject of an aging good guy called into service once again has been covered many times before.

There is also a superficial feel to the film - it doesn't convince or even try to convince us that these are real people in real danger. It reminded me of Desperado which also engages in almost cartoony levels of violence and has its tongue firmly in cheek. RED won't win many fans over but anyone expecting a good laugh won't leave disappointed.

Mirren's performance is the most surprising and the most enjoyable, bar Malkovich
Mirren's performance is the most surprising and the most enjoyable, bar Malkovich | Source

Should I watch it?

RED is a ridiculously entertaining diversion which seasoned action viewers will enjoy as much as everyone else. The film's heady blend of violence and comedy is an intoxicating mix and with performances that are delightfully over-the-top, the film is a surprisingly effective picture that gives these actors one last chance to blow stuff up. It's not big or clever - the movie doesn't stop to ask questions of the plot, which is probably for the best - but the film is a whole lot of fun.

Great For: action viewers, couples, older viewers who have no idea who Channing Tatum is

Not So Great For: award nominations, anyone paranoid about the CIA, John Malkovich's 'serious' reputation

What else should I watch?

As much as I enjoyed RED, I had my doubts that there was enough story to tell for a sequel but when did that ever stop Hollywood? RED 2 seemed to fall short of the standards of the first, despite being just as ridiculous as this film and I suspect that when the third film arrives, it will be a further dilution of the formula. My advice is to stick to the original which, I'm sure, was entirely predictable.

There's little doubt that comic adaptations are currently in vogue in Hollywood with no signs of stopping in the near future. But Marvel have had much success bringing their characters to the big screen, it's a little disheartening to find DC Comics unable to match it. With the exception of Christopher Nolan's all-conquering Dark Knight trilogy, the likes of Green Lantern and Superman Returns are probably best forgotten, a luxury that the abominable Catwoman can't afford with its four Razzie awards. Even their recent push towards a Justice League movie hasn't set the world alight - both Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice were joyless affairs and only Wonder Woman seems to have bucked the trend by being almost unique in the plethora of superhero films flooding the market.

Main Cast

Bruce Willis
Frank Moses
Mary-Louise Parker
Sarah Ross
John Malkovich
Marvin Boggs
Morgan Freeman
Joe Matheson
Karl Urban
CIA Agent William Cooper
Helen Mirren
Victoria Winslow
Brian Cox
Ivan Simanov
Julian McMahon
Vice President Robert Stanton

Technical Info

Robert Schwentke
Jon & Erich Hoeber *
Running Time
111 minutes
Release Date (UK)
22nd October, 2010
Action, Comedy, Thriller

* based on the comic book series created by Warren Ellis & Cully Hamner

© 2016 Benjamin Cox


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