Before I dive into the one-man circus of insanity that is John Malkovich, let me quickly set the table.
If you don’t like Bruce Willis, you will not like Red. He’s on-screen 200% of the time, doing a variety of improvisations on the theme of John McClane two decades past Diehard. Oh he still has a few cooler than a glacier moves and his head absolutely gleams. But those pursed lips. We’ve been there.
Then there’s Helen Mirren, highly acclaimed (and thereby patronized) for “looking so sexy” for her sixtysomething age. She looks fine, but she also walks through her role as a simulation of a simulated aging great actress. And if Mirren can, from some angles, look youngish for her age, poor Morgan Freeman (trotted out to join the team of retired CIA assassins known as Retired Extremely Dangerous -“red”) looks like his own father. He must have needed the paycheck – recent divorce perhaps?
Red contains a few nice surprises. For example, the indestructible Ernest Borgnine (yes, he IS still alive) does a crafty cameo, and the RED team’s CIA nemesis is played by the very tasty Karl Urban who rivals Daniel “James Bond” Craig in the “don’t bother to wrap it” department.
Having said all of this – yes the film is diverting, but no it isn’t memorable – let me now turn to the main course — John Malkovich, who has no peer in the wide screen bandwidth devoted to unstable wack jobs.
Twenty years or so ago the seemingly uncategorizable Malkovich mesmerized filmgoers as the manipulative psychopath of In the Line of Fire. What proved so uncanny was Malkovich’s ability to suggest an infinity of paranoid states using eyes and facial twitches alone. It was as if, to gloss on Hamlet, his eyes fluttered upward while his words remained in some unspeakable personal purgatory.
Now add a huge handful of cartoon parody to that signature portrait of the delusional misfit, and you’ve got Malkovich in Red, a film which was appropriately enough adapted from a graphic comic. Now sporting bags below his eyes as voluminous as white flags of surrender billowing in a private battlefield, Malkovich looks like an entire motel of unmade beds. He uses facial eloquence to throw his character in two directions at once. He comes unglued, about to grand mal seizure through crowds of bad guys pursuing the Red team, at the same time that he grabs an arsenal of flame throwers and automatic weapons and adroitly out-machos everyone in sight, including the über-macho Willis.
Somehow he is simultaneously sexy and nuts. This unlikely character Malkovich has honed and polished, is exactly what poor Nicolas Cage has been attempting to pull off all of these years. Yet Malkovich makes it look as easy as getting drunk.
Red is a feast for Malkovich addicts. For others, it’s merely two hours of avoidance behavior.