Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cinema Notes From All Over (Older and Wiser Division)

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.--Red, released last year and now on DVD, is the kind of movie that makes one want to stand up and cheer, or it would if one weren't so comfortably ensconced on one's sofa, charmed to death by both the thought and the reality of an irony-laced thriller starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox. 
   Mr. Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA officer whose specialty was "wet work," which every filmgoer over the age of six knows means assassination. Here's our question: has the CIA developed new code terms for its labors now that the old ones have infiltrated thriller scripts bad, good and indifferent for the past twenty years? 
   Frank falls for Mary-Louise Parker--as who wouldn't?--even as his past comes back to haunt him in the form of lots of people trying to kill him.  
   The plot, as it should be, is a cheerful shambles: something about Guatemala in 1981 and the Vice President and an assassinated New York Times reporter and a list of people to be killed by the nefarious powers behind the powers that do the thing over in the place at the time of--well, you get the picture. The whole thing is an excuse for cast members to do their expert thing, tongue firmly planted in cheek. 
   And do it they do. In the hands of, oh, say, Jason Statham, Red (that stands for "Retired--Extremely Dangerous") would be naught but a grim march. Thank the film gods that this one fell into the hands of such experienced, clever actors.
   Mr. Willis, his face now hangdog-ish with age, is his usual wise-cracking and romantic self. The endlessly enchanting Mr. Freeman is a master at appearing to really listen to other actors/characters, a gift only outshined by his delightful smile. As an LSD-damaged ex-CIA conspiracy freak, John Malkovich offers the audience a broad wink: You and I know I'm always typecast as the crazy guy, so why don't we just relax and let me drift though this one, magnetism intact, acting chops subtly revved? Brian Cox, who will always be considered a character actor--and a gifted one, if there is a God--wears a Russian accent like he would a winter mink: with an amused flair and no little wit.
   Ms. Parker, sublime, couldn't have put a foot wrong if director Robert Schwentke had held a poisonous snake to her throat. And is there anything more heartwarming than the sight of Ms. Mirren wielding dangerous firearms while dressed in a flowing white evening gown and, well, combat boots?
    With the exception of Ms. Parker, Red cast members are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. The film is an offering to those of us who have been with them for the long haul. Will everyone be as charmed by the film? A younger filmgoer with whom we watched it certainly was, although, as he pointed out, "There's no sex scene!" Perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps not. 
   In the end, it doesn't matter. Red has million-dollar talent on abundant display. And it's a whole lot of fun. 
  There's worse you could say about a movie. 

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