Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber (Graphic Novel: Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner)
Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Rebecca Pidgeon, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss
PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
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The story of a retired CIA agent (Bruce Willis) trying to make mundane life enjoyable has been chatting absently with a customer service agent (Mary-Louise Parker) at the Social Security administration where he claims his payments aren’t getting to him. It’s all a ruse to speak with her, but it turns into something more as he discovers shortly after that a squad of assassins has been dispatched to take him out. As he flees for his life, taking the young woman with him (by force to start), he finds there’s more to the killing spree than he knows and he must put together his old team to save his and their lives.
What really turns out to be little more than a paint-by-numbers story is bolstered by a cast of acting veterans (Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox) who look very much like they are having a hell of a time. Quite a bit of the dialogue is crisp and entertaining even if the plotting and predictability are not. Matter of fact, if you don’t see exactly where the film is going as it plays, then you aren’t paying enough attention. The effects aren’t revolutionary, but they are interesting enough and the film doesn’t seem to focus on the razzmatazz that a lot of other recent comic book adaptations have. There is only one really nifty effect scene as Willis calmly steps out of a spinning car, moves past a fender about to hit him and plows shot after shot into a pursuing SUV. From there on out, most of the scenes are simple, traditional affairs with minimal imagination.
When I first saw the trailer for this film, I really thought it would be Mirren that made the film shine, but while she is a wonderful presence in the film, it’s Malkovich who really keeps the film alive with his paranoid skepticism and sharp one-liners. In another actor’s grasp, it would feel cloying, superficial or derivative, but Malkovich manages to make the character feel crisp. Cox is a fun addition as the Russian spy who joins their operation. And Freeman channels a bit of his humorous Godly abilities from Bruce Almighty even though he is one of the two weak performances in the film. The other is Willis who often looks out of sorts or perhaps botoxed heavily. He lacks the cleverness and inventiveness his character possesses and seems stuck in a long-gone Die Hard mode that makes his relationship with Parker occasionally stiff. I have always liked Parker and although this isn’t nearly the quality of her landmark role in Weeds, she is sufficiently novel and likable even though she does seem to take a little more in stride than would a woman in her position in reality.
The film should easily appeal to comic book fans who aren’t looking for the bloody excesses of films like Watchmen or, more recently, Kick-Ass. Audiences may skew a bit older and those who are aged more closely to Mirren, Malkovich and Freeman may have difficulty at time relating to everything presented, they will enjoy the throwback spy thriller with the minimal unnecessary violence and dotage jocularity.
October 18, 2010