Red by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner is a remarkably simple bit of comic book storytelling.
It would have most likely been possible to complicate it just enough to make a feature movie with the same lean, mean and ultra-violent feel, and I have to admit I probably would have enjoyed that movie more than I did the movie they ultimately made. Of course, that movie would have required skills that are incredibly rare in American moviemaking these day, not to mention, it almost certainly wouldn't have been as commercially viable as the movie they made.
Red by Robert Schwentke goes in a much different direction, making it into a more expectedly complicated spy movie Over-the-Hill Gang, which isn't a bad thing in itself.
The screenplay seems to have borrowed a bit from Ellis's Crooked Little Vein, not in tone, which is, if anything darker than "Red", but simple the world of politics it inhabits, although I could be reading too much into that.
There's something there, be it the remnants of the original comic book or just the incredibly talented and game case, that feels like it could have been, even should have been, better than the movie turns out to be.
Bruce Willis is solid and charmismatic, although his character is saddled with a largely unnecessary and perfunctory romantic relationship with Mary-Louise Parker. Morgan Freeman is good, as always, but seems to have been included merely as some kind of extended in-joke.
John Malkovich is somewhat cast to type as the paranoid and not altogether there former CIA agent, but he gives it a great go. Brian Cox, in his second movie named "Red" in two years (after the excellent revenge drama Red by Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen), is also in excellent form.
Aside from a cameo role by Ernest Borgnine, the best thing in the movie, however, is Helen Mirren. She's just a delight, capturing the perfect tone of humor and gravity to make her character believable and the story move forward. I think someone should leap on the opportunity and turn her into an action star for the new century, or at least beef her role up considerably for the sequel.
And I'll undoubtedly show up for a sequel. Sure, it falls short of greatness, despite my having some sense that in this case that is a failure, but it's a lot of fun.