Saturday, October 16, 2010

Retire the name, retire the concept

If you search the word "red" on IMDB, you get 23 exact title matches. In other words, it is probably one of the most common exact titles of any film/short/tv show/video game out there. ("Blue," by contrast, has only 15 exact title matches, while "white" has a mere seven.)

The title is not the only unoriginal thing about Red, releasing today, but let's start with it.

I grant you, Red is not actually Red, but RED. It's an acronym for "retired, extremely dangerous." But who even knows where the correct capitalization will be used, and where it won't be. For all intents and purposes, it's the color red, and the poster you see to your right doesn't do anything to discourage that association.

My problem with this is that a film title is an opportunity not merely to come up with something short and snappy that your target audience can remember. RED certainly qualifies in this respect. But it's also the opportunity to be creative and clever, and not just rehash other titles from the past. Even if this movie is based on a comic book that's also named RED, I don't find that reason enough to give the movie the same generic name. Or, maybe my beef is with the guy who wrote the comic book.

So what, Vance. A handful of short films and a foreign film that's part of the "three colors" trilogy are named Red. Where's the conflict?

You may have a point. Okay, so let's move on from picking on the title to picking on the premise.

Does every other movie these days have to be about CIA operatives/contract killers who are either retired or close to retiring? And be a comical treatment of that subject matter?

Again I may fail you in terms of providing a bunch of concrete examples. But it's kind of an offshoot of the trend from last decade in which mobsters and contract killers were always finding themselves on shrinks' couches, talking about their feelings. The Sopranos got the ball rolling in a dramatic setting, and it rolled on to comedy, where it multiplied and became extremely boring.

That's kind of how I feel about all these "one last job" movies that seem to be popping up everywhere, or maybe more accurately, movies about former killers going straight, which is essentially what happens when you retire. Killers from earlier this year is one such example, but others abound.

RED may be a cut above the rest of the movies in this trend whose existence I am not doing a very good job of proving. I mean, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich should be a kind of dream team, shouldn't they? And maybe they will be. But while other bloggers started getting feverish from the RED trailers six months ago, in part because they liked the seeming incongruity of Dame Helen Mirren wielding an assault rifle, I got a sense of deja vu even from that aspect of the film. Mirren actually already played an assassin in the misguided film Shadowboxer, in which she was also involved in an inter-generational, interracial romance with a character played by Cuba Gooding Jr. That one wasn't played for laughs, either. I assume Lee Daniels (Precious) would just as soon forget about that one.

The problem, as I see it, is not about RED in particular, which could be quite good. (I've learned my lesson, from the scolding of other bloggers, to be careful about damning a movie I haven't seen on the first day of its release, even if I'm just making predictions and pontifications.) RED is really only feeding a cinematic appetite, and for that it cannot be blamed.

Namely, we the audience seem to be endlessly fascinated with spies, assassins, contract killers, CIA agents, sharpshooters, and other shadowy characters who make their living screwing silencers on to the tips of pistols and putting bullets into people's brains. It's part of our natural escapist instinct as viewers, I guess. And because it's more interesting to see these people at a turning point in their lives, we're forever fascinated by the killer who's losing his marbles, or having panic attacks, or trying to settle down, or trying to cash a social security check. When you look at all these factors, a movie like RED is as inevitable as the next movie that will try to lure teenagers with shirtless werewolves.

But just because we have this collective appetite, it doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. So RED will not be getting my $12 this weekend. In fact, when my dad is in town this weekend to meet the baby, and my wife and I will probably actually be able to get to the movies, we'll be digging back a month to finally see The Town, rather than going with one of this weekend's new releases.

What, you thought we'd go see Jackass 3D?

That's a rant for another time ...


Chris said...

I too have noticed this. Red is really is an unimaginative title for the new bruce willis flick! Why they couldn't they come up with something else is amazing with all that Hollywood money.

I reviewed (and liked) Red (2008) starring Brian cox, and I'll be reviewing another "Red" on my blog at some point(the French one from the 90s)

Derek Armstrong said...

Like I said, I guess we have the graphic novel to blame. But it doesn't mean we can't complain about it anyway!