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Entries in Bruce Willis (2)

Tuesday
Mar062018

DEATH WISH

Stars: Bruce Willis, Dean Norris, Vincent D’Onfrio, Elisabeth Shue, Kimberly Elise, Camila Morrone, Beau Knapp and Len Cariou.
Writer: Joe Carnahan; based on the novel by Brian Garfield.
Director: Eli Roth

Rating: 3/5

There is no escaping the urge to dismiss, even deride, Eli Roth’s remake of Michael Winner’s 1974 sequel-friendly Death Wish as an ugly by-product of the new President’s America. Filled with scenes one desperately hopes are ironic but probably aren’t (giggly, buxom salesgirls espouse the pure joy of AR weaponry; Mexican valets rape college-bound white girls; African-American hoods deal drugs via neighbourhood kids), this update threatens to play as archaically redundant as its source material. In the new United States of Fear and Intolerance, however, Roth's alpha male-privilege fantasy may tap the emboldened 'alt-right' audience.

Bald and angry white-guy Bruce Willis effectively channels the rigid, one-note screen presence of Charles Bronson as vigilante Paul Kersey, the well-to-do middle class professional who comes to accept that lone-wolf justice is better than anything the cops or courts can offer. When Dean Norris’ bald and angry white-guy detective offers only excuses regarding the investigation into the murder of his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and brutal assault of his daughter (Camila Morrone), Willis arms up and hits Chicago’s seedy, nighttime locales to reek his own brand of heart-over-head vengeance.

Willis’ casting is crucial, not because he does anything remarkable with the character – Kersey is a meat-&-potato American ‘suburban dad’, offering Willis little scope – but because Roth’s coldly calculated if simple-minded thriller exists in a 80s action-movie world totally tone-deaf in today's climate. Our anti-hero is so of another time, he can’t text (despite overseeing a modern hospital’s emergency room) and the narrative relies on some ridiculous developments only the most undemanding Blockbuster customer would have ever fallen for (e.g., Kersey procures his first gun when it falls from a shooting victim in the ER, in plain view of several clearly blind hospital staff and long after ambulance medics have stripped down the victim). Little is made of Dr Versey’s relationship with his Hippocratic Oath, one of many missed opportunities in the formulaically constructed script by macho screenwriter Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, 2007; The A-Team, 2010; The Grey, 2012).

There are modern concessions that the 2018 production affords itself – Kersey becomes a viral online sensation, dubbed ‘The Grim Reaper’ when his first slaying is uploaded. But Roth falls back on another relic of times gone by, the talk-back radio shock jock, to act like a Greek chorus arguing (not very convincingly) the moral complexities of should-he-or-shouldn’t-he vigilantism. DOP Rogier Stoffers  (School of Rock, 2003; Mongol, 2007; The Disappointments Room, 2016) also recalls the bygone beauty of Winner’s film stock ambience, capturing the deep, dark shadows of a city at night in his lensing.

To your left-leaning critic, the politics of Death Wish are reprehensible. Roth has never displayed too much sensitivity or intellect, so it is unlikely he took on a revenge narrative as a means by which to encourage discussion; in his film, a bad guy with a big gun will be stopped by a decent guy with a bigger gun, one of many NRA bumper-sticker sentiments that seem to have inspired the plot. To die-hard advocates of Trump’s singular vision to return his nation to ultra-conservative white-man rule, however, it will play as if John McClane, one of cinema’s greatest American heroes, was always on their side.

Nevertheless, Eli Roth’s Death Wish is arguably his best work since…whenever; a slick, sick and admittedly watchable throwback to a brand of un-PC action/thriller when the unjustifiable yet, to some, understandable actions of a gun-toting, grief-stricken everyman, his heroic roots in classic Western films, still seemed pure movie fantasy. With ugly male privilege and toxicity in the spotlight, Willis and his director faced an uphill battle to make their lead character anything less than reprehensible; if that’s their only achievement, it’s a significant if questionable one.

Thursday
Aug172017

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE

Stars: Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, Famke Janssen, Emily Robinson, Jessica Gomes, Kaleti Williams and Adam Goldberg.
Writers: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen.
Director: Mark Cullen.

Rating: 3/5

As the afternoon orange bathes California’s Venice Beach neighbourhood, imagine Hudson Hawk barrelling along Abbot Kinney Boulevard, collecting John Wick as he enters from Brooks Avenue, before both are rammed by the Inherent Vice bus on Main. The resulting tangled mass in the middle of the intersection would be Mark and Robb Cullen’s Once Upon a Time in Venice.

Conjured as a free-spirited vehicle for the charms of their leading man in his wisecracking heyday, the brothers Cullen reteam with Bruce Willis to try to right the wrong that was 2010’s Cop Out, the Kevin Smith-directed travesty that put a handbrake on Tracy Morgan’s film momentum. Mark’s directing debut is equal parts crime thriller, family drama and Cal-noir detective story, complete with some tone-deaf stereotyping and cute dog moments. The goofy, off-kilter riff on LA sleaze fits within a genre highlighted by better films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Thomas Pinchon adaptation, The Coen’s The Big Lebowski or Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (Renny Harlin’s The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, too, but whether that was superior is a maybe).

Like the traditional fairy tales from which the film takes its title, Once Upon a Time in Venice has a storyteller, in the form of John (Thomas Middleditch), a nerdy intern/protégé for ex-LAPD cop Steve Ford (Willis), a not-very-successful private-eye sliding further into the underworld morass he mostly frequents. The film opens with a patently ridiculous sequence in which Ford, having bedded his client’s daughter Nola (Australian supermodel Jessica Gomes), escapes her family thugs by fleeing naked into the night on a skateboard. The entire gag takes a long while to play out (the money shot - close-up on a set of buttocks most definitely not those of the 62 year-old Willis), though it is infused with the kind of nutty energy that Willis last exhibited in his 1991 megaflop, Hudson Hawk (a film that has since acquired an army of ‘guilty pleasure’ defenders, including yours truly).

Things get personal for our hero after heavies working for local drug kingpin Spyder (a very funny Jason Momoa), rough up the family home of Ford’s sister, Katey (Famke Janssen, deserving of better) and niece, Taylor (Emily Robinson). When they dog-nap the beloved pet, Buddy, the PI undertakes a series of schemes and capers that land him deeper in the mess he has created. All the while, a frantic Ford is working a case involving land developer ‘Lew the Jew’ (Adam Goldberg), whose deal is being scuppered by a mysterious graffiti artist painting X-rated murals of the real estate tycoon (a subplot as puerile as it sounds, though undeniably funny in parts).    

Filling out the ‘old chum’ role here that Danny Aiello played in …Hawk is John Goodman, bringing some welcome comedic skill as Dave, an ageing holdover from 70’s Venice hippy/surfie culture on the verge of losing everything (including his mind) in a messy divorce. He is one of several known names who front up for bit parts, probably because they all live within blocks of the production’s West coast locations; among them are Elisabeth Rohm, Kal Penn, Adrian Martinez, Christopher McDonald and, for a few utterly bizarre seconds, David Arquette.

Only occasionally exhibiting the advance of time, Bruce Willis clearly enjoys an all-too-rare opportunity to flex his brand of on-screen comedic skill. One can see the smooth charm of Moonlighting’s ‘David Addison’, the slapstick energy of Blind Date’s Walter Davis and the scummy antihero of Bonfire of The Vanities ‘Peter Fallow’ in Ford. You may find yourself muttering, “He’s still got it,” if only because, not for the first time in his career, he elevates what could have been misguided chaos into something entirely watchable, even likable.