Helen Mirren. In a long, white evening gown. Firing a 50 caliber machine gun.
It’s a wonder that “Red” -- the forthcoming, Bruce Willis-starring comic-book action flick – isn’t merely called “Helen Mirren with Guns.” But at the very least, that’s one visual curious viewers can mull before Summit releases this little firecracker in October.
Another is John Malkovich, grizzled and crazy-eyed, gripping a pink stuffed animal pig, dodging bullets. Or Willis, as dangerous former CIA assassin Frank Mozes, the awkward, gawky half in a rom-com.
“It reminds me of the first ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ when we put it together where you wrote a nice high script and then George [Clooney] commits and then so and so commits and then so and so commits. And this one did that,” says producer Lorenzo diBoneventura on the magical starpower draw of “Red.” “It started with Bruce, obviously, and I think Morgan [Freeman] was in second and then Helen Mirren. So then we started getting incoming calls. Usually you’re out there trying to shake the trees and get them to beg them in any way or form to read your script and come on board, you know?”
Maybe it was all the sexy, luxe places the actors, a team of CIA retirees, get to “go” – Cleveland, Mobile, Ala., and Kansas City for instance. The team shot the film largely in Toronto (for the “New York city” action to the woods in upstate) and New Orleans, two locations versatile enough to turn this comic-book comedy into a road movie as well.
The locales are part of an itinerary to “put the puzzle together,” says diBoneventura. Willis’ Mozes is brought out of his sterile post-career downtime by his former agency, which has decided that this former hitman knew too much. He grabs an unwitting Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) – his love interest – along the way, reassembles the squad, and spot by spot claws his way back to the top of the CIA’s new school to set things straight.
On a recent set visit, for instance, Mozes, Malkovich’s Marvin (with pig in tow) and Sarah sprint and fire their way through a wasteland of shipping containers on the water’s edge in NoLa, surrounded by the heavy metal boxes which production designer Alec Hammond described as “Lego blocks for adults.” The two men are trying to find out why they’re both on a hit list, and are trying to find one of the last remaining names on the list that is still alive.
While the romantic chemistry between Parker and Willis flourishes throughout the adventure, the buddy cop feel is as palpable between stern Willis and loony Malkovich.
“It’s a really fun couple. It really is. It’s really sort of [‘The Odd Couple’] Felix and Oscar... Marvin is a real eccentric character. He’s a little off, you know?” diBoneventura says. “And the movie evolves in the way the shooting evolved. It’s like we’re working with one actor, then we’re working with two actors, then we’re working with three actors for awhile, and then four… So the movie takes on a different tone each time these actors come in because they came in sort of along the way. And just when you forget about it, then Morgan Freeman showed up and then the movie took again a whole other tone.”
And those introductions are re-introductions for the character back into the black-op forces. The tagline for the film “RED: Retired, Extremely Dangerous” implies rousing these older REDs out of their “normal life” slumber.
Says diBonaventura: “This movie sort of has that underlying notion behind it is the empowerment of all those people who are sort of getting left behind, you know?” Mirren, for instance “runs a B&B and that’s what she does. And when you meet her she’s like serving tea and making flower arrangements and you’re like who’s this lady? The next thing you know she’s firing a 50 caliber machine gun, you know?
“Helen Mirren is a phenomenal wetworks sniper.”
Look for more reports from the set of "RED" over the next few months on HitFix.