In Theaters Today: “RED” / “Tamara Drewe”

by Jason LeRoy on October 15, 2010

Helen Mirren and John Malkovich preparing to bust a few caps in RED

After the jump, check out reviews of two films based on graphic novels that are opening in Bay Area theaters today: RED (from the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner) and Tamara Drewe (based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds).


starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Mary-Louise Parker, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, Julian McMahon

directed by Robert Schwentke

rated R

The title RED is an acronym for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.” If that gives you a little chuckle, RED might be the film for you. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, lighthearted hybrid of Wanted and Wild Hogs, you have a new favorite movie. But if that description makes your eyes roll dangerously back in your head, I strongly caution you to heed your crap detector and stay away.

Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, and Helen Mirren all star as RED-classified former CIA agents who find themselves reunited and going rogue in a Manchurian Candidate-style story about a high-level political cover-up. But don’t let the too-good-to-be-true cast fool you: this material is not worthy of their talents. Willis does his Bruce Willis thing, looking as always like a handsomely smirking brick wall. Freeman does a slightly twinkling variation on his standard Morgan Freeman thing, but doesn’t have much screen time.

Malkovich easily walks away with the film, playing a swamp-dwelling loose cannon with an explosively unhinged comic energy that is unmistakably his own. Mary-Louise Parker is especially tragic. As Sarah, the hapless phone operator who gets unwittingly swept up in all these bullet-riddled shenanigans, she appears to be channeling a clich├ęd lady comic circa 1994 (“This isn’t my best first date,” she says after being kidnapped at gunpoint by Willis upon their first meeting. “But it isn’t my worst either.” AMIRIGHT LADIES??). And with Parker’s trademark drawling delivery, she seems like she’s constantly one vibrator-speed joke away from saying, “Don’t get me started!” For an actress who is continually proving her own fearless ferocity on Weeds and is just generally awesome, it’s heartbreaking to see her reduced to such a disempowering and uninspired role.

But if you’re like me, you have only one question about RED: do we get to see Helen Mirren fuck anyone up? Because that would obviously make it all worth it. Early in the film, Bruce Willis has the pleasure of destroying a team of men who enter his home to kill him. It’s an electrifying sequence, and once director Schwentke tips his hat to the audience with the kind of violence we can expect – huge, athletic, cartoonish, mostly bloodless – all I could think about was watching Helen Mirren dropkick some dude while blasting away at another with a semiautomatic rifle.

And, well, I got part of my wish: we do see Mirren brandishing increasingly large weapons of destruction as the film progresses, culminating in that giant thing she’s manning in the photo above the jump. Sadly, we don’t see many of the bullets connect, and her hand-to-hand combat is limited to one brief (but awesome) scene where she takes out a security guard with a quick purse-chop to the throat. But compared to her male cohorts, she’s mostly the one standing watch with a gun.

RED seems to think of itself as an action comedy, but there’s a big problem with that: it’s not funny. Like, really not funny. With the exception of Malkovich, whose humor comes from his performance rather than the wretched attempts at jokes in the script, there’s nary a laugh to be found in this film. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t try – over and over and over. It’s kinda like watching a comedian bombing a stand-up gig. But fortunately, it’s entertaining and fast-paced enough to compensate for its misbegotten comic aspirations.

RIYL: movies about sassy old people/aging Boomers showing the youngsters they still have what it takes.

Tamara Drewe

starring Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig

directed by Stephen Frears

rated R

In this pleasantly diverting, twisty little soap opera, Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia, Clash of the Titans) stars as the title character, a former ugly duckling (she evidently wore Nicole Kidman’s Oscar nose from The Hours as a teen) who returns to her small Dorset village as a world-class hottie and stirs up all kinds of trouble.

Most of the action rotates around a writer’s retreat run by pompous popular crime writer Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his long-suffering wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig). Nicholas, like most of the male characters, are infatuated with the newly stunning Tamara, who wanders coyly around the estate in a pair of coochie-cutters (“I worry about the chafing,” Beth sighs).

But Tamara, who is now an entertainment journalist, soon becomes embroiled in a tumultuous affair with an insane (and insanely arrogant) British rocker named Ben Sergeant (played by Mamma Mia‘s Dominic Cooper as a lean, lithe, guylinered sex god). This provokes the consternation not only of the other men in the village pining for her, but also of cantankerous young Jody (Jessica Barden), a foul-mouthed tween who terrorizes the village out of boredom but finally finds a reason to live in Ben Sergeant.

The film mostly works, despite the same inconsistency in tone that has plagued many of Stephen Frears’ films. Arterton is perhaps too remote to provoke the audience into the same roiling boil as her character does to the men in the film, but she does convey equal parts beauty and intelligence. And there is no such thing as a bad British character actor, so naturally all the supporting actors are brilliant. Greig is especially effective and devastating as poor cuckolded Beth. And Cooper is electrifying (and crazy-hot) as the tantrum-throwing drummer. Best of all, there are lots of gags about the insufferable selfishness and fragility of writers. I think we can all drink to that.

RIYL: British ensemble comedies like Cold Comfort Farm (to which there is a direct reference).

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