When adapting any kind of source material into a film, a level of faithfulness to that material is generally (and often rightfully) put in the back seat behind the need to make an entertaining movie, depending on the prominence of the source. While the Harry Potters
and Lord Of The Rings
of the world are often reproduced almost word-for-word, the fate of comic book adaptations is a bit more shaky: there’s often little need for slavish adherence to the desires of 10,000 readers when you’re attempting to lure 5,000,000 moviegoers into the theater on opening weekend, which is why we wind up with barely-recognizable adaptations of books like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
slots itself firmly into this category of films that are only tenuously related to the comics that inspired them, but while it might not resemble Warren Ellis
’ graphic novel in anything but name, it at least has the virtue of being mostly entertaining.
The comic, if you haven’t read it (and you should), tells the story of Frank Moses, former assassin and black operative, who lives by himself, tortured by the memories of the hundreds of innocents that he was asked to kill in the name of his country. After the CIA decides that it’s time for him to be more permanently retired, he turns upon his attackers and winds up infiltrating Langley as a one-man army. The basic plot here could’ve been turned into what I imagine would’ve been a gripping, dark action movie, although it’s obvious that it would’ve been treading on the toes of the Bourne
movies, or perhaps Salt
. Instead, director Robert Schwentke ( Flightplan
), writers Jon and Erich Hoeber ( Whiteout
), and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura ( G.I. Joe
, Transformers 2
) have made a major tonal shift in the film adaptation, choosing to lighten the proceedings with generous dollops of marginally effective humor, large amounts of loud gunplay, and an excellent cast of elderly assassins. It’s less the graphic novel RED
than it is a geriatric version of the Rush Hour
movies, but that’s hardly a bad thing if you’re in the mood for some stupid fun.
It’s almost impossible to believe that someone managed to fit a cast with Bruce Willis
, Brian Cox
, Helen Mirren
, Morgan Freeman
, John Malkovich
, and Richard Dreyfuss
into a balls-out action movie, especially given the ever-increasing trend for major Hollywood films to put teen asses in seats; imagine a version of Twilight
starring Richard Gere
and Rene Russo
, and you’d get an idea of the cognitive dissonance on display here. It works extremely well, though; all of these actors make the most of their screen time, even if they aren’t always given the best material to work with. Mary-Louise Parker
’s role is perhaps the least persuasive; she’s a fine actress, but her character walks a too-fine line between giddy and ditzy to take her seriously.
The script aims for that breezily insouciant tone that some action films affect, where everyone involved chooses not to acknowledge the constant danger that they’re in, and it hits it well enough; the actual dialogue is often less humorous than the Hoebers seem to have thought it was, however. It’s at times amusing, but rarely laugh-out-loud, and some of the character affections, such as with Malkovich’s penchant for carrying a big pink pig around with him at all times, edge into eye-rolling territory.
Still, the script wisely keeps the pace up, and we’re never more than a few minutes away from a little gunplay...or a lot. While Schwentke might not be the most experienced action director on the block (and this shows in a mid-film fistfight where the cameras are so close that it’s difficult to follow what’s going on), he makes the right call in keeping the gunfire loud (really loud!) and extreme. Rifles are used as baseball bats to return grenades to their throwers; a .44 Magnum is used to shoot an incoming RPG and detonate it in mid-flight; a trio of assassins fire so many rounds into a house (without reloading) that part of it collapses. It’s entertaining stuff, as well as extremely absurd--in all the good meanings of the word. RED
doesn’t aim for any particular depth--it’s a summer popcorn action flick somehow transported to the middle of October. As an adaptation, fans of the graphic novel are likely to be bewildered by its lack of resemblance to the source material, but as an entertainment, the creative team behind it has certainly succeeded in making it palatable to a wider audience than it would’ve been otherwise, even if doing so occasionally causes them to sometimes indulge in lame humor. This isn’t a film that seems likely to wind up being especially memorable, but as a film of relatively simple pleasures, RED
succeeds by virtue of not aiming especially high, and managing to hit its mark.