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(2010) *** Pg-13
111 min. Summit Entertainment. Director: Robert Schwentke. Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine, James Remar, Rebecca Pidgeon.

/content/films/3861/1.jpgIf you’re looking at your local multiplex today for the Red that won Best Play at this year’s Tonys, you’re going to wind up very confused. The movie Red isn’t an intense, complex meditation on the relationship between an artist and his art; rather, it’s a lighthearted shoot-’em-up based on a comic book.

But before you dismiss it, consider this: Red stars four Oscar-winning actors. It’s not every day that you’re able to use “Helen Mirren” and “heavy artillery” in the same sentence, but Red gives you the opportunity. Very loosely adapted from the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red stars Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, a retired CIA black ops agent with a fearsome reputation. Of course, news of Frank’s skills haven’t reached his suburban neighbors or Sarah Ross (Tony winner Mary-Louise Parker), the Social Security office cubicle worker he’s taken to chatting up over the phone.

Frank’s quiet life doesn’t last long: his plan to travel to Kansas City to meet up with Sarah hits a snag when armed commandos attempt to kill him. For Sarah’s safety, he’ll have to abduct her and keep her in line while looking up old friends also classified as “RED”: “Retired – Extremely Dangerous.” What we have here is a two-joke premise: “danger man” hero takes innocent female on the ride of her life, and old folks do the darndest things. But when the comically romantic couple are Willis and Parker, and the retirees include Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich, well, you’ve got yourself a movie, my friend.

Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife) gives the picture stylish direction, with swirling camera moves and an ear for comic rhythms. The script has decent comic snap, and of course, stuff blows up real good. But the show here is in the casting, which calls up a deep bench of acting talent. As an active CIA agent on the hunt, Karl Urban (Star Trek’s "Bones") makes a strong foil for Frank, but the real baddie turns out to be Richard Dreyfuss. Ernest Borgnine also turns up, as do Brian Cox, James Remar and Rebecca Pidgeon.

It all adds up to a couple of hours of crowd-pleasing nonsense. There’s some “last chance” romance, a familiar critique of CIA corruption, sympathy for the spy (the first question when a guest arrives is “Are you here to kill me?”), and a consideration of the ol’ “we’re not dead yet” retirement theme. Frank states the obvious: “With age comes a certain perspective.” But let’s be honest, Red is about seeing Mirren wielding a sniper rifle, and Malkovich acting all kinds of nutty as a character who was given “daily doses of LSD for eleven years” (the other side of the joke being that he’s always right: you’re not paranoid if they’re actually out to get you).

I won’t say you haven’t lived until you see John Malkovich, as a retired CIA agent, sadly dangling a stuffed pig from his hand, but I will say it brightened up my day.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 1/25/2010

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Red looks great in Blu, in a special edition from Summit. The impeccable high-def transfer flaunts exceptional detail and texture, fine contrast and beautiful color, with nary a digital artifact to be seen. The image also retains a film-like texture thanks to the retention of light grain. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is reference quality, with impressive discrete separation, crystal-clear dialogue, robust music and walloping sound effects.

The special edition includes a few but very impressive bonus features, beginning with a drily funny audio commentary by retired CIA field officer Robert Baer. Baer is as frank as the law allows in discussing what it's like to work for (and retire from) the CIA, and his remarks are screen-specific and address with good humor the correlation between screen fiction and reality.

Ten “Deleted and Extended Scenes” (8:46, HD) are worth a look, but the real jewel in the crown here is a viewing option called Access: RED. This enhanced viewing mode features cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, Baer’s CIA perspective (most of his commentary), a “Damage Control” meter, “C.I.A. Exposed” video segments, and pop-up trivia. Participants in the interview segments include producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Richard Dreyfuss, Rebecca Pidgeon, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Bruce Willis, Karl Urban, and Julian McMahon.

Red fans will definitely dig this special edition, with its top-notch A/V credentials and value-adding extras.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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