A Los Angeles detective seeks out the ruthless gang that stole his dog.
I think it’s safe to assume that Bruce Willis hasn’t given a noteworthy performance since 2012’s “Looper.” Before that? Well, that’s open to personal opinion. I myself would have to go with 2009’s “Surrogates,” a movie in which he gave a very touching performance but again, that’s personal conjecture. His career since “The Expendables 2,” has taken the same downward spiral that happened to Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, and Dolph Lundgren, where the majority of their films go straight to DVD. Willis has since starred in such classics as “The Prince,” “Extraction,” “Precious Cargo,” and “Marauders,” to name but a few. Some say that this occurred after he demanded too much money for his returning role in “The Expendables 3” and in which that series’ creator, longtime friend Sylvester Stallone, fired him from the project for being too greedy and asking for way too much money for a few days work. I like Willis, in small doses, and a lot of that boils down to the fact that he is known as a prima donna on his movies. I’ve watched him in interviews where his body language is saying “I don’t want to be here” and has made things very awkward and difficult for the person interviewing him but as an actor of big action films, that is part of his job but he always appears that he is above all of that and that is a big part of why I am not too fond of him anymore. All actors have to market and publicize their movies and he is not exempt.
Judging by the trailer for “Once Upon a Time in Venice,” you would be misled into thinking that Willis is back in fine form, a return to his John McClane days, filled with wisecracking, sarcastic witticisms, followed by him shooting all the bad guys and blowing everything up. That is only partly true. Willis seems more attentive than many of his previous outings but that is probably because he is surrounded by a bevy of A-list stars, including John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Famke Janssen, and Thomas Middleditch so he probably wanted to bring his own A game, but honestly, as far as this film is concerned, I couldn’t blame him if he, and the rest of the cast, acted apathetic and lackadaisical because that is exactly what the story delivers. Willis plays Steve Ford, a private detective who lives in Venice, California and manages to make a living solving local crimes. He has an assistant, John (Thomas Middleditch), who one day dreams of running his own detective agency but right now, he basically runs Steve’s office, including getting his boss coffee every day. Steve’s sister Katey (Famke Janssen) and niece Taylor (Emily Robinson) are living by themselves after Katey’s husband decided to leave for Australia to go “find himself,” leaving them with nothing. On top of all of that, Steve’s best friend Dave (John Goodman), is on the verge of losing everything to his ex-wife in their bitter divorce. Hilarious so far, right?
When Steve helps find a girl who has been listed as missing by her family, and they end up sleeping together, her two brothers manage to find his apartment, beat him up but he manages to escape and find solace with an old friend of his, Tino (Adrian Martinez). Tino manages to talk Steve into recovering his car from a local drug dealer named Spyder (Jason Momoa) who stole it from him and after he miraculously manages to escape with the car, a few days later he is distraught to discover that his dog Buddy, was taken from his sister’s house, along with many of their possessions. He finds out that it was Spyder and when he goes to his house to ask for his dog back, Spyder tells him that if he can help locate his now ex-girlfriend, who ran off with a suitcase filled with his cocaine, as well as his dog, he will pay him for his time, and also allow him to take his dog back. On top of all this, Steve gets embroiled by a local real estate agent, Lew the Jew (Adam Goldberg), to help track down a local graffiti artist who has been defacing one of his apartment blocks, one he is getting ready to try and sell and in order to get out of another predicament, Steve needs to borrow money from a local loan shark called Yuri (Ken Davitian), who only allows one day for the full amount to be paid back. And the story goes on and on.
There is absolutely nothing remotely funny about “Once Upon a Time in Venice.” It is a series of apparent humorous situations, one placed on top of another on top of another and it is supposed to stir laughs as we watch Steve go from one sticky circumstance to another and by the end of the movie, he manages to avert all catastrophe that has been placed in his way, not because he is a fine detective, but because the story dictates so. How the producers were able to secure such big names is beyond me but they did and the sad part about it is that the film is none the better because of it. There is a great ensemble herein but each character is paper thin and the only reason they appear in the film is for the audience to go “Hey look, it’s John Goodman, or Jean Grey, or Aquaman,” and to help propel the story forward, not for any other reason. Character development? What the hell is that? This is a Bruce Willis movie, we don’t need character development or story exposition, we have John McClane, quipping one-liners and beating up bad guys, what the hell else do you want? A decent story would be nice, instead of creating an assortment of various scenarios around a famous movie star should he agree to be in your film. For a better time, check out Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Now that’s a real movie!
Available on Blu-ray & DVD Tuesday, August 15th