Tag Archives: Bruce Willis

More Geezer, Less Teaser

Gasoline Alley

by George Wolf

“Hey, Bruce Willis, how many movies do you have coming this year?”

“Yes.”

In the month or so since the last Willis project with writer/director Edward John Drake – American Siege– was released, I’ve learned of the term “Geezer Teaser,” which is a perfect summation of how this genre usually operates. An aging star is featured heavily in the marketing, while their tangential character often just disappears midway through the film due to the star’s 1-day shooting schedule.

The good news for Gasoline Alley is that Willis hangs in ’til the end, and it’s clearly the best of the Willis/Drake collabs.

Luke Wilson joins in this time as well, playing Detective Vargas to Bruno’s Detective Freeman, and these two guys have four big problems. The bodies of four dead hookers have turned up, and a lighter found at the scene leads the two cops to Gasoline Alley, the L.A. tattoo parlor of ex-con Jimmy Jayne (Devon Sawa). Jimmy was also the last person seen with the dead hooker named Star (“If you forget it, just look up”), but do you think Jimmy’s going to sit back and just accept being framed?

Damn right he’s not. He’s going to let Willis and Wilson (Willison!) take some scenes off while he conducts his own investigation, sleuthin’ and shootin’ with an ever-present cigarette dangling perfectly from his steely pout.

Most everything about Drake’s films is varying degrees short of authentic. And though Gasoline Alley shows progress, details such as the set design, score and faux news reports still seem carelessly thrown together, which don’t give the forced noir dramatics much of a chance to cast a spell.

But if you’ve seen all of the Drake/Willis (Drillis!) catalog (and this is number five, with another currently in post-production), Gasoline Alley is a pleasant surprise.

Drake’s script (co-written with Tom Sierchio) has moments of self-aware humor – even poking fun at one of his previous films. And while Willis is again on autopilot, Wilson seems to be enjoying the “no F’s to give” attitude of his character, Sawa is commendably committed and Veep‘s Sufe Bradshaw turns in some fine support.

Is it ridiculous, overwrought and amateurish in spots? Sure, but this one is actually watchable.

Bravo, fellas, keep it up.

TOGETHER AGAIN

American Siege

by George Wolf

American Siege is already the fourth film that writer and/or director Edward Drake has done with Bruce Willis in just the past two years.

And if you’ve seen any of these projects (Breach, Apex, Cosmic Sin), you know the business model: give Willis a limited role he can shoot in a day while you fill the running time with limp action, painful performances and hackneyed dialog. It’s an assembly-line approach that gets cheers for efficiency, but jeers for quality control.

This time out, Willis is Ben Watts, a former NYC cop enjoying the quiet life as a sheriff in smalltown Georgia. But his lazy days canoodling with his deputy (a Janet Jones sighting for the first time in nearly ten years) are interrupted by a hostage situation.

A small gang of baddies has taken the town doctor (Cullen G. Chambers) hostage, and they have an unusual request: reopen the case of a local woman’s disappearance, or else.

Okay, give Drake credit for a somewhat interesting setup, but it’s one that quickly gets buried under ridiculous plot turns, lazy execution and heavy-handed declarations.

The town is run by one of those Ben-Gazarra-Road House guys (Timothy V. Murphy) who can can summon a goon squad at a moment’s notice. And this one does, because there are secrets in the good doctor’s place that must be protected.

We know this because of the warning Doc gives his captors about opening that household vault with a door right out of Ocean’s Eleven.

“Some things can’t be unseen!’

But don’t be too concerned with the doctor’s realization that “I’ve already said too much!” He’ll be blurting out Not Ben Gazarra’s evil plan in no time, while making sure to blame the entire bloody mess on “coastal elites.”

Mess is right. Even the shoot-em-up payoff is lackluster, while the film’s prevailing worldview is simplistic and pandering, and the ensemble’s forced emoting makes Willis’s latest sleepwalk feel like Daniel Day-Lewis.

But, after about 90 minutes, just remember Drake and Willis already have two more of these gems in post-production, so one of them has to be better than American Siege.

Right?

Exit Stage Willis

Midnight in the Switchgrass

by George Wolf

This is the third Bruce Willis film so far this year. That leaves 13 more in production, and 1 in development. And if you’ve seen even a few of the titles in Bruno’s output over the last several years, you can assume a couple things about his latest right away.

First, regardless of his presence in the poster and/or trailer, Willis will only show up for a few scenes in the actual film. And secondly, his character won’t be that integral to the story.

Both assumptions prove true with Midnight in the Switchgrass, a thriller that manages to work itself a notch or two above most films in the “Exit Stage Willis” subgenre.

Willis is Karl Helter, the old and tired FBI partner of agent Rebecca Lombardi (Megan Fox). Rebecca’s been going undercover as a hooker to try and catch the serial killer (Lukas Haas) stalking truck stops and roadside motels around Pensacola, Florida (a character inspired by real life “Truck Stop Killer” Robert Rhoades).

There’s a string of similar cold cases dating back several years, a fact that still haunts Florida state police officer Byron Crawford (Emile Hirsch). When a new victim turns up, Byron is compelled to assist Rebecca and Karl any way he can.

Well, he assists one of them, anyway, because Karl conveniently bails before Rebecca is kidnapped by the killer and events turn mildly interesting.

This is the debut feature for both writer Alan Horsnail and director Randall Emmett, though Emmett’s long tenure as a producer appears to have honed his ability to craft a generic crime drama that imitates more gripping films – one in particular.

A killer’s identity that is never in doubt, paired with parallel storylines and certain other flourishes I won’t mention for fear of spoilers, all bring a serious Silence of The Lambs vibe.

That’s rarefied and ambitious air that Switchgrass can’t live in, though it does carve out a few respectably tense manhunt moments. Fox and Hirsch rise above some heavy-handed dialogue – even Bruno seems halfway interested while he’s around – and Haas is effectively creepy.

Add it all up, check the scorecards, and on the sliding scale of Willis its rank is roughly equal to Citizen Kane.

Midnight in the Switchgrass is available on VOD July 23rd.

Watchu Talkin’ Bout, Grillis?

Cosmic Sin

By George Wolf

Knowing that Cosmic Sin comes from the writers behind last year’s Breach probably won’t fill you with confidence about their latest sci-fi adventure.

But the good news is Edward Drake and Corey Large are improving. Very, very slowly.

Drake also takes the director’s chair this time, and coaxes a mildly interested performance out of returning star Bruce Willis (which Breach could never manage).

The year is 2524 (remember that) and Earth’s forces have formed the Alliance of colonies throughout the universe. Willis is General James Ford, renamed the “Blood General” after he wiped out one of the colonies with a “Q-bomb” and was stripped of rank and pension (ouch!).

But minutes after learning of first contact with an alien life form, General Ryle (Frank Grillo) calls Ford back to duty, where he’ll join a rag tag group of you know who to make a heroic you know what and save you know where.

Drake and Large (who also plays Ford’s sidekick) clearly blew the budget on Grillo and Willis (Grillis!), with a side of Costas Mandylor. 500 years from now looks a lot like next Tuesday, while planets light years away look like next Tuesday in Michigan.

And still, cinematographer Brandon Cox manages some slick deep space panoramas…that are often ruined by Saturday morning-worthy effects of our heroes flying through the stars and “pew pew pew”-ing in battle with the aliens.

Likewise, Drake and Large’s script toys with the meaty issues of war, sacrifice, and colonialism, only to abandon them in the name of heroic grandstanding. Potential threads (and Grillo’s entire character) grab our attention and then vanish at random, rendering much of the 88 minute running time a meandering mess.

Still better than Breach, though.

Standup Comic

Glass

by George Wolf

M. Night Shyamalan has been grappling with expectations for nearly twenty years. They were high when he was blowing our minds with twist endings, but the craving for another Sixth Sense experience led its follow up, Unbreakable, to be wrongly labeled as a step down.

After years of diminished returns led to zero expectations for a Shyamalan project, Unbreakable began to get its due in retrospect, a hand the writer/director played perfectly with the riveting Split three years ago. That film stood tall on its own, but when the drop-the-mic final scene revealed it as an Unbreakable sequel all along, expectations for the next round went skyward pretty damn fast.

Or was that just me?

I know it wasn’t, and while Glass caps the trilogy with a dive into comic book lore that is completely fascinating to watch unfold, it lands with a strangely unsatisfying thud.

Split left us with The Beast – the most dangerous of Kevin Crumb’s (James McAvoy) “horde” of personalities – on the loose in Philly. Glass begins with David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who has spent the years since Unbreakable running a security firm with this son (Spencer Treat Clark in a nice return) and walking the streets as a mysterious vigilante hero dubbed “The Overseer”, tracking him down.

Their standoff leads to an early burst of crowd-pleasing action, and a trip to the psych ward for both Crumb and Dunn – the very same hospital where Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson) has been serving his life sentence.

Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) arrives to define the film’s central conflict, telling them all that superpowers are only for comic books, and everything remarkable about their lives can be deconstructed and explained, much like a magic trick.

Shyamalan’s feel for pace and sequencing is fine here, as is his changing color saturation when superhero themes gain strength. The film’s first two acts build a compelling arc on the fragility of human potential set against the ambitious premise of comic books as real life.

As Crumb and his 23 identities, McAvoy is completely mesmerizing once again, able to move freely between contrasting personalities with such incredible precision the understated performances around him seem only right.

Willis’s default setting of steely glares serves him well as the reluctant savior, Jackson gives his scheming mastermind the right mix of brilliance and condescension, and Paulson wraps Dr. Staple in a fitting air of mystery from her first introduction.

It is only Anya Taylor-Joy, returning as Casey “the girl The Beast let go,” whose talent seems ill-placed. While Casey is seemingly there as a reminder of Crumb’s humanity, the frequent tight closeups on Taylor-Joy’s comic book ready eyes become a heavy handed blur to the message.

But with Split putting Shyamalan firmly back in his groove, expectations for an unforgettable end to the trilogy create a uniquely painted corner. Potent storytelling gives way to declarations that ring of self-serving defenses of the filmmaker’s own work, while more obvious foreshadowing overtakes the nifty, hide-in-plain-sight subtlety.

Would Glass have worked better if we hadn’t been standing around staring all this time? Probably. but Shyamalan got us here with skill, and he gets us out with a film that’s easy to respect, but hard to cheer for.





You Have the Right to Remain Dead

Death Wish

by George Wolf

Many things about this Death Wish reboot make you wonder why, in the wake of current events, the film’s release might not have been postponed a bit. Waiting wouldn’t have made it a better film, just a little less tone deaf.

But hell, director Eli Roth doesn’t have time for any of that sensitive crap. He’s coming in guns hot, seemingly confident he’s crafting a self-awareness that must be invisible to the rest of us.

Bruce Willis is mostly effective, and sometimes disinterested, as the new Paul Kersey, and this time Kersey is a surgeon. He’s spurred to vigilante action after a home invasion leaves his daughter (Camila Morrone) in a coma and his wife (Elisabeth Shue) in the grave, and his violent alter ego quickly gains fame on social media as “the Grim Reaper.”

Kersey’s success at keeping his identity hidden is one of the many eye-rolling conveniences in Joe Carnahan’s script, all minor nuisances next to how far Roth and Carnahan end up from where they thought they were going.

While Brian Garfield’s original novel probed the futility of vigilante justice, Charles Bronson’s string of Death Wish films moved the Kersey character from anti-hero to overtired cliche.

Roth seems to think he’s revamped the franchise as some sort of satire, but he’s wildly off the mark. That would require smart humor and strategic nuance, and Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno) just doesn’t work in shades of gray.

The humor, thanks to a couple of corny detectives (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise), is straight outta sitcoms. Nuance? Meet bombast.

Kersey saves lives by day and takes them at night! Do you get the contrast? Do you, really? Here’s a split screen montage to help you understand.

As Kersey points out that the problem is cops who just aren’t violent enough, Roth intersperses arguments from talk radio hosts in a feeble attempt to counter the film’s overriding message. It’s just literal lip service.

The finale, a “good guy with a gun’s” wildest fantasy, cements the film’s worldview. And even if you’re fine with that, you can find it in plenty of other films with better execution.

Pun intended.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_I4zqC7GN8

 

 





Sheriff McClane Comes to Town

First Kill

by George Wolf

The big doin’s in Granville, Ohio a few months back come to the big screen this weekend with the Central Ohio premiere of First Kill, a thriller about …big doin’s in Granville.

Sheriff Howell (Bruce Willis) calls a recent bank heist, “the biggest crime to hit Granville in decades,” and he warns old acquaintance Will Beamon (Hayden Christensen) to keep alert while he’s in town as there’s some dangerous fugitives on the run.

Will’s a hometown boy who made good in New York as a slick Wall St. broker with a hot big city wife (Megan Leonard). But, with their young son Danny (Ty Shelton) having bully problems in school, Will figures the best medicine is a family deer hunting trip back to his old stomping grounds.

Things go awry when father and son see something they shouldn’t, and suddenly Will must recover the stolen bank loot before Chief Howell does and use it as ransom for Danny’s safe return.

Principal shooting on the film was done in Granville last year, with a few additional scenes completed in downtown Columbus. After Travolta’s I Am Wrath and Schwarzeneggar’s Aftermath, First Kill marks the third big screen icon to film in Central Ohio in just the last few years.

Chris Hamel, Board President of the Greater Columbus Film Commission, says that’s more than a coincidence.

“There is a lot of interest in making movies here and I think more and more productions will be choosing Ohio in the coming years.  We are pleased that First Kill could be shot in central Ohio and excited to host the Columbus premiere at the Gateway Film Center.”

Director Steven C. Miller, who’s been prolific with these B-movie thrillers, gives a nice shine to the cliche-heavy script from writer Nick Gordon (Girl House). The “hunter will become the prey” foreshadowing is a bit thick in the early going, the setup leans on contrivance, and few if any of the plot turns will surprise, but once First Kill gets rolling into Miller’s well-paced groove, it’s not a bad ride.

Though Christensen is still struggling to carry a film, Willis supplies his natural gravitas and Ohioan Shelton makes an impressive big screen debut. As young Danny, Shelton’s easy rapport with Gethin Anthony (as kidnapper Levi) is a constant highlight.

First Kill can’t hit the Hell or High Water heights it aspires to, but hey, few can. Can it dust off some well-worn genre tropes and entertain? Ten-four.

First Kill makes its Central Ohio premiere July 21st, 7:30 at Gateway Film Center.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

 





Not Too Old for This Shit

 

by George Wolf

 

RED was not a great movie, but a clever script and an extremely likable cast made it a helluva fun ride and a mildly surprising hit.

So, for RED 2, then..more of the same?

You bet, and it works just as well.

This time around, ex-CIA badass Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is determined to stay Retired Extremely Dangerous, living the domestic life with his sweetie Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) in the suburbs. Sarah, though, kinda liked her introduction to the spy game, so when their old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up with an invitation, she pushes Frank to accept.

And with that, we’re off to the races. Sure, they’re ridiculous races, but that hardly matters with old friends (Helen Mirren) and new friends (Catherine Zeta Jones, Anthony Hopkins) as cool as these.

Screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber return from part one, again providing plenty of snappy dialogue for their veteran actors, while director Dean Parisot (the underrated Galaxy Quest) has no trouble staging globe trotting action sequences or blowing things up.

Parisot is also smart enough to know that with a cast such as this, sometimes you just stay out of the way.

Malkovich and Parker are deliciously droll and often hilarious, and Mirren, well really, don’t we all want to grow up to be Helen Mirren?

Even Willis seems rejuvenated, after sleepwalking through the latest G.I. Joe and Die Hard installments. This is a tough guy character with a softer shade, and he seems to relish it.

It’s at least twenty minutes too long, and the novelty of aging asskickers may not survive future installments, but right here, right now, RED  2 pegs the fun meter early and often.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Needs More G.I. Joementum

 

by George Wolf

 

At the risk of sounding too much like Grandpa Simpson…In my day G.I. Joe had Kung Fu grip and that was all and we liked it!

Before G.I. Joe:  Retaliation started to roll, Hope asked me if I knew any of the characters besides good old Joe. Since the long ago days when I played with the action figures, it seems there was a cartoon and one previous movie. Though I was vaguely  aware of 2009’s The Rise of Cobra, I have to admit I didn’t know Cobra Commander from Cobra Kai. Sweep the leg!

The point is, this G.I. Joe sequel is ridiculously bad, only redeemed by one sweet mountainside action sequence and the curious moments where it seems to know how bad it is and lets some self-aware humor sneak in.

If lines such as “Soon the world will bow down to Zues,” and “Storm Shadow, tell us Zartan’s plans or die!” sound more suited for Saturday-morning fare, A) you’re correct and B) you’ll be disappointed to learn this dreck was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. These guys wrote the sublime Zombieland, and knowing that hurts my heart.

Director Jon M. Chu brings a resume loaded with the Step Up movies and a Justin Beiber concert film, which makes perfect sense. Retaliation sports the volume, pace, and emotional depth of a frenetic music video.

Oh, there’s Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, finally deciding to team up since they’re in every other movie anyway. Johnson flexes well and makes sure the Under Armour logo gets screentime, while Willis lands some good one liners, especially when he insists on calling the female Joe “Brenda” even though her name is Jaye. And ladies, you get Channing Tatum (with a fake facial scar – rugged!) for a full 9 or 10 minutes!

Most of Retaliation truly seems aimed at kids, with just enough silly narrative and sophomoric exposition to keep things moving from one scene of extreme bloodless violence to the next. Then, just to throw the adults a funny bone, a joke about taxes or North Korea comes flying in from left field.

The biggest joke, though, was on me, as I actually stayed through the credits thinking there might be an extra scene.

2 stars (out of 5)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSX2oxLdcWA