Once Upon a Time in Venice

I don’t know who bothers me more: indifferent Bruce Willis or cocky Bruce Willis.  Precious Cargo and Marauders gave audiences more of the former, featuring the actor barely showing effort in his performances.  Cop Out and his latest action flick Once Upon a Time in Venice shows more of the latter Willis as he smirks and sleepwalks through his role.  The actor, who has been great and charismatic in the past, seems to be uninspired lately.  Then again, the recent consistency hints he’s satisfied with slumming it.

Cop Out and Once Upon a Time in Venice share two other names – Mark Cullen and Robb Cullen.  The duo wrote Cop Out (with Kevin Smith directing it) and Once Upon a Time in Venice (with Mark in the director’s chair).  Both films are cut from similar cloth: the movies feature an aloof hero (Willis) who must solve a convoluted crime by interacting with locals, obnoxious sidekicks, and stereotypical crooks.  Shootouts ensue, outrageous snark is out-of-control, violent villains toss around colourful expletives, and Willis looks as if he’s running out the clock.

Much like Cop Out, Once Upon a Time in Venice is excruciating.  The Cullens, at least, introduce more action sequences that involve exotic locations around Los Angeles, but it’s all for naught since the context is senseless, the humour is crude, and Willis’ body-double work is too obvious (stuntman Stuart Wilson deserves kudos nonetheless).  The personalities that pass through this story are paper-thin cutouts that are so helplessly underdeveloped, Thomas Middleditch (playing one of many side characters) has to literally narrate individual characterization.

Thomas Middleditch, actually, is the only actor who finishes this film with grace.  I’ve seen Middleditch interviewed and he exudes gratitude.  His performance in this film reminded me of Adam Sandler’s early work in 1989’s Going Overboard – the film stinks but he’s overwhelmed with amazement to even be considered for a leading role.  Let’s hope Willis’ bad habits don’t rub off on him.


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