REVIEW: Red

26 01 2011

There’s more to the fun of “Red” than Helen Mirren firing away like a madman with a machine gun.  It’s an action movie not afraid to flash its AARP card, which makes its rather typical action and plot feel a lot fresher than it probably is.  With Bruce Willis finally embracing his age, rather than doing movie after movie that’s one “yippee-ki-yay” away from complete implausibility, it’s a nice change of pace for the action star that could signal better days ahead.

As Frank Moses, the retired and extremely dangerous (hence the acronym RED) former CIA agent, Willis is having a rough time adjusting to life after his time in black-ops.  He’s trying to do the whole suburban thing, but the only thing that gives him real joy is chatting with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a federal pension phone customer service representative.  Of course, at 55, main street Americans only wish they could be receiving retirement benefits as opposed to unemployment benefits.

But whatever normalcy he built in suburbia is shattered as he’s drawn back into the bullet-ridden world by an attempt on his life.  Frank discovers that thanks to being part of a Guatemalan mission back in the ’80s, he’s being targeted for death.  Gathering up a gang of other Baby Boomers including the incredibly paranoid conspiracy theorist Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Frank’s terminally ill mentor Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), and Victoria (Helen Mirren), a former assassin with class and grace.  Yet the best part of all is that Frank brings Sarah, oblivious to the perils of the, along for the ride.

The trigger-happy travelogue through the United States is a wild romp that excites and entertains at surprisingly high octane and high thrills.  At 110 minutes, the premise ages quickly and begins to drag a little bit.  Yet the entertainment is always solid as the bullets fly and bombs explode, even as the trek through the plot gets a little … dare I say it, old.  But it has a plot, and that’s more than I can say for most action movies nowadays.  B





REVIEW: Solitary Man

9 12 2010

Michael Douglas, like most skilled actors, can deliver good performances in his sleep, but these types of actors are only exciting to watch when they try something different or really put in the work to elevate their performance.  In “Solitary Man,” it seemed to me like Douglas was sleepwalking through the entire movie.

It’s really a shame because this could have been a great role for him.  Fascinating performances often arise when actors take parts that reflect where they are in life, particularly at milestone ages.  From child to teen, from youth to adulthood, from young to middle-aged, and for Douglas, from middle-aged to the age of mortality.  The theme of confronting old age is particularly eerie to watch now given Douglas’ fight with cancer.

Yet while all the components are there, something just doesn’t add up.  I wouldn’t attribute it all to Douglas; the film’s plot is pretty weak and the self-examination severely underdeveloped.  This is such a rich topic, but the movie only brushes the surface.  Douglas’ Ben Kalmen struggles with a lot of things: his loneliness, his infidelity, his fall from grace in business, his desire to stay young, among others.

The psychological struggle is all provided by Douglas, not at all by the script.  Nowhere is there a great line for us to chew on or a particularly interesting plot development to leave us reeling.  There’s just predictable old plot gimmicks that run for 90 minutes, which hardly feels adequate for Douglas to give the character much depth.

He gets no help from an impressively cast ensemble including the likes of Susan Sarandon, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, and Mary-Louise Parker.  The writers don’t bother to give any sort of depth to these supporting actors; they might as well have just abandoned names altogether and called the characters “aging ex-wife,” “young new girlfriend,” and “beautiful daughter.”  There’s so much “Solitary Man” could have been, but not even Michael Douglas can save it from becoming an entirely forgettable snooze.  C