Red: Stir-Fried Beef with Peppers and Bamboo Shoots

Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban
(PG-13, 111 min.)

"Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead." Ben Franklin

Not a bad way to while away an hour or two, but this is mostly froth with very little ale, and it’s very pale ale at best. This cast deserves a better script, yet they seem to be having fun with their two dimensional characters, laughing all the way to bank, I’d bet.

The problem is that we never get much beyond the premise – isn’t it fun to watch the over the hill gang in action again, taking on a rogue CIA black op and showing the younger generation a thing or two? Well, the premise, as well as the cast, is a bit long in the tooth by now.

Others have done the same thing and with much greater resonance, mainly because they didn’t just play things for laughs but introduced some dissonance as well. The most readily comparable film is the recent The Expendables, which also has its comic moments, but as in all of Sylvester Stallone’s work, it is undergurded by a tender code of chivalry as well as an underlying sense of existential anguish, not to mention the self-aware irony that raised the exploding blood bath of a film to another level. Stallone, in The Expendables, as well as his earlier Rambo franchise, doesn’t hesitate to explore the cost upon the souls of those “rough men (who) stand ready to do violence on our behalf.”

Conversely, in Red, the titular acronym standing for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous” – almost like the media’s portrayal of the Tea Party crowd – Helen Mirren plays Victoria, a very proper former British MI6 assassin, who despite her Martha Stewart country home facade, actually misses her work and still takes the “odd job on the side” to keep her spirits up in between flower arranging and baking scones.

My gut reaction is the same as it was with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where all of Brad’s charm and Angelina’s pouty smiles can’t take away the sour taste of cracking jokes about a husband and wife trying to kill each other.

Similarly, another film of the same premise, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, is Dirty Harry in retirement, but a film with some degree of philosophical heft, with Eastwood as a kind of curmudgeonly Camus cut off from nature, his fellow men, his God, and his true self.

Michael Caine could give some advice to his fellow Brit, Ms. Mirren, with his wonderful depiction of Harry Brown, a wheezy 80-year old who becomes a reluctant vigilante, trying to catch the bad guys as well as his ragged breath. The key here is that he is a reluctant killer, as are most decent humans who have ever had to take a life. Mirren’s Victoria holds her submachine gun all too gleefully, almost like a fashion accessory or a symbol of female empowerment.

In this film Bruce Willis plays Frank Moss, the retired CIA tough guy with at least a smidgen of longing for a new life, but he waltzes through his part here, without the gritty rebellion or taunting joy of “Yippee Ki Yay” from his Die Hard days.

John Malkovich, skates by in his “I’m the crazy refugee from a government LSD experiment” type, a Howling Mad Murdock of The A Team fame gone to fat, but still sharp enough to prove that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. A far cry from his more serious work in Death of a Salesman or The Glass Menagerie, but I guess when you lose millions to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, you’ll take any work you can get, and do it with a smile, even if it is a slightly unhinged one.

After playing Nelson Mandela in Invictus I guess Morgan Freeman feels comfortable as a head of an African nation, all neon blue finery and medals he when he impersonates a corrupt leader looking to buy weapons. He even has one scene where he captures some of Mandela’s dignity, but his first scene oogling a nurse at his retirement home is neither particularly funny nor original.

And yes, it’s great to know that Ernest Borgine is still alive, the 93-year-old offering not much more than a cameo as the guardian of some very secret CIA files, but there’s not too much punch in the lines they give him. I’m with another critic who wishes Willis’ Frank Moss would have greeted him with, “Hey, Marty, what do you wanna do tonight?” that famous line from Borgine’s Oscar winning 1955 film about a shy and awkward Bronx butcher looking for love.

And sadly, that’s what comes to mind most, a few days after viewing Red, flashbacks of much better films using variations of its formula, or nostalgic recollections of the actors when they were challenged with scripts worthy of their skills.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Sure, all the action, including an impressive number of things that “blow up real good” is in the old US of A, but the start of everything, the real cause of all those corpses littering up the screen, goes back to Nam, some forty years ago.

Let’s enjoy this froth of a film with something of a bit more substance, though, a delicious dish from Saigon, Stir-Fried Beef with Peppers and Bamboo Shoots.

You might also want to cook up another Vietnamese dish Beef Pho from the equally satiric Tropic Thunder.

Stir-Fried Beef with Peppers and Bamboo Shoots 

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch mixed with a little water
  • 1 lb. rump steak, thinly sliced
  • 3 green onions, cut in 1/2 inch lengths
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup canned bamboo shoots, sliced
  • 1 large green sweet bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce or 2 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 2/3 cup beef stock 2 tbsp. sugar

Directions

Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat, add the beef and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring all the while, to seal in the flavors of the meat. Scoop out the beef and place it in a warm oven. 

Add the green onions and garlic to the wok and stir-fry over a moderate heat for 3 minutes. Increase the heat to high, stir in the bamboo shoots and pepper, and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. 

Stir in the fish sauce, stock, and sugar. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Return the beef to the wok and stir for 1 minute. Add the cornstarch to the beef mixture and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Serve immediately.

Recipe Source: Saigon Cooking.com