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Reviews For The Easily Distracted: Red

Title: Red

What The Hell Does That Mean? "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" in fictional CIA parlance.

Directed/Written By: Directed by Robert Schwentke, whom some of you may know from Flightplan. Based on a comic by Warren Ellis, whom none of you know (unless you're fairly serious comics nerds).

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two and-a-half out of five Helen Mirren bikini shots.

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Tagline: "He's got time to kill."

Better Tagline: "Sneakers with less brains and more explosions."

Brief Synopsis: Retired ex-spooks wage war against the federal government in a thinly veiled allegory of the upcoming Social Security crisis.

Not So Brief Synopsis: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA field operative, living a life of solitary drudgery broken only by phone calls with his federal benefits rep Sarah (Mary Louise Parker, trying her best to look mousy). When a mercenary hit squad attempts (unsuccessfuly) to kill him, Moses has to reach out to his old contacts in the intelligence community to find out what's going on.

And just to keep things lively, he has to kidnap Sarah and bring her along too.

Ups: Helen Mirren firing a .50 caliber machine gun is the perfect storm of two of my personal fantasies; negative portrayal of U.S. government unlikely to help Christine O'Donnell's campaign.

Downs: Slow, even for a movie starring a bunch of 60-year-olds; sinister plot turns out to be pretty dull; entire cast is, in general, just playing a more firearm savvy version of themselves.

"Critical" Analysis: Bit of a disappointment, really. From all the ass-kickery in the trailers, I was expecting a significant amount of violence, but apart from a handful of set pieces (many of which border on the ridiculous), we mostly get a lot of what passes for clever banter by writers Jon and Erich Hoeber. This is their second comic adaptaion (the first, Whiteout, was an incoherent hack job of decent source material), and based on the stilted dialogue here, I'm really looking forward to their big screen version of Battleship next year.

Yes, Battleship ... the Milton Bradley game.

Ellis' comic series has to be fleshed out quite a bit to make for a feature length film, adding new characters like John Malkovich's conspiracy nutjob Boggs and the Martha Stewart-with-a-license-to-kill: Victoria (Mirren). The tone has also been lightened considerably, which only adds to the audience's disconnect.

They've thrown away any pretense at making a "suspense" movie, as there's no real mystery about whether or not the protagonists are going to survive. Moses can defeat 10 armed men single-handedly, Boggs can shoot an RPG out of the air, and Victoria exchanges automatic gunfire with 20 federal agents with nary a scratch. Yes, one of the team ends up dying, but it isn't as big a shock as you might think (hint: it's the character with end-stage liver cancer).

It also says a lot about a society when they've become so used to real-life stories about torture (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo), not to mention widescreen depictions of it on TV (24) and the movies (too many to count), that the implied threat of applying a blowtorch to a guy's balls can be taken as comic relief, even if the guy is Richard Dreyfuss. That's where we are, though.

Moses is another shade of the wise-cracking badass Willis usually plays, and Parker can't seem to get any decent work outside of Weeds, though she does the best with what's written. Of the rest of the star-studded cast, only Karl Urban (as the young Turk CIA agent on Moses' trail) and Brian Cox (as a former enemy Russian agent) do anything besides go through the motions.

Which reminds me, this is what Ellis had to say on the subject of casting:

Bruce Willis as Moses, yes. But also: Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, John C Reilly, Helen Mirren, Julian McMahon, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfus. It reminds me a bit of those 70s films like THE TOWERING INFERNO, that had in them everyone you wanted to see in a film, all at once.

Well, yes...except The Towering Inferno was a fucking disaster, and not in the intended sense.

Body Count: A few dozen. I didn't really keep an accurate count since the allegedly ruthless ex-spies decided about halfway through to go all Terminator 2 and avoid killing anybody. And really, that's some serious A-Team physics when you can put upwards of a thousand .50 caliber rounds into a bunch of cars and not even wound anyone.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: Rent it. If only for Borgnine.

Red is in theaters today. Screw the kids, take the parents.

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