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Review: Once Upon a Time in Venice

Once Upon a Time in Venice
06.13.2017
5 10

PLOT: A down-on-his-luck private eye (Bruce Willis) is pressed into working for a drug dealer (Jason Momoa) when his beloved dog is kidnapped.

REVIEW: ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE is a mixed blessing for Bruce Willis fans. For one thing, it’s the first film he’s done since RED 2 where he’s not playing a walk-on role, with him front-and-center throughout, a nice change-of-pace from the way he been sleepwalking through DTV actioners like THE PRINCE or FIRE WITH FIRE. However, it’s not exactly the Bruce Willis action flick we’ve been hoping for either, nor is it a rakish throwback to his “Moonlighting”-era, despite him once again playing a wisecracking private eye. It’s more like his Kevin Smith vehicle COP OUT, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as that movie’s writers, Mark and Robb Cullen, wrote and directed this.

To give the guys their due, for first-time directors they do an OK job, with them having assembled a great cast, including John Goodman as Willis’s best buddy, a down-on-his-luck surf shop owner, and AQUAMAN himself, Jason Momoa, in addition to turns by Adam Goldberg, Famke Janssen, and “Silicon Valley’s” Thomas Middleditch. It also has a nice sense of atmosphere, with them making the most out of the Venice Beach locales, opting for a kind of surf noir tone that could have led to a better movie than the one that eventually got made.

The issue here is the meandering script. Everyone still wants to be Quentin Tarantino, and the episodic structure, which ties together Willis’s varied cases never comes together in a clever way. None of them have any real sense of urgency, from a real estate developer (Goldberg) dealing with homophobic street art, to a pair of Samoan brothers who want to beat Willis up for sleeping with their sister, to Momoa’s coke dealer – who’s got Willis’s best dog buddy as his canine hostage.

Going for a light, jokey tone that’s directly in contrast to the early artwork (which has since been dropped) that positioned this as a straight-up action movie, you shouldn’t worry too much about the pooch’s safety. It’s not JOHN WICK, and Momoa’s dealer, with his silly talk and pratfalls, is a distinctly softhearted guy. There’s not really any action at all, with all the setpieces being played for laughs, such as an early chase where Willis skateboards naked through the city. With him hopping into bed with twenty-somethings, sporting body art, and skateboarding throughout, it plays like a weird attempt by his to stay relevant with a younger audience, and it’s jarring to be sure – but at least he’s giving a legit effort here.

The cast is mostly wasted on one-note parts, with Middleditch Willis’s nerdy partner, and Janssen limited to a handful of scenes as his sister. Of everyone, only Goodman makes a real impression, sporting a surfer hairdo and speaking like he’s been smoking too much weed. If you ever wanted to see what it might have been like with Goodman playing The Dude instead of Walter in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, this might be worth a look.

Otherwise, it’s a bit of a messy movie, with some obvious hints that something went amiss in post-production popping up here and there, like the overuse of cheap music library tracks on the soundtrack, and a few scenes where it seemed like a Willis impersonator chipped-in on the ADR. At least Willis is back to playing leads, occasionally anyways, but he’ll have to find a better vehicle if he really wants to re-connect with today’s audience in the same way his peers like Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell have.

Source: JoBlo.com

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