Review: First Kill

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: In an effort to reconnect with his family, a Wall Street wheeler-dealer (Hayden Christensen) takes his wife and son on a hunting trip to the small town he grew up in. When his son is kidnapped by crooks, he has no choice but to set out on his own to get the boy back, while the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) and his deputies pursue an agenda of their own.

REVIEW: FIRST KILL is another Grindstone Entertainment release. For those not in the know, this company specializes in low-budget actioners, produced on tight-budgets and tight schedules by Randall Emmett and George Furla, that are usually able to attract some pretty big names. John Cusack has made several, as have Robert De Niro and Nicolas Cage, but Bruce Willis is their go-to guy. He routinely pumps out them out, with three in 2016 alone (EXTRACTION, PRECIOUS CARGO & MARAUDERS). FIRST KILL is his first of another three due out this year, and it’s as phoned-in as the others. He shows up here and there, but barely registers.

Co-star Hayden Christensen is the default lead, but even he’s off-screen for big stretches of time, when the plot shifts to depict a growing bond between our hero’s kidnapped son and his captor, a local boy (Gethin Anthony) who says he’s been framed by Willis’s sheriff. Here, FIRST KILL seems to be director Steven C. Miller’s riff on Clint Eastwood’s A PERFECT WORLD, but the film is deadly dull in these lengthy asides that seem to have been plucked out of another movie.

Had FIRST KILL been kept as a grungy action flick, it might have worked, with Christensen making a decent lead. Now in his thirties, he’s a lot more natural than he was a few years ago. While FIRST KILL is unlikely to be much of a comeback for him, he’s at least dropped his much-mocked tough-guy affectations from his last round of actioners, and comes across well as a desperate dad, although he’s not given much chance to really strut his stuff as an action hero. It’s way too modest a production for that.

Director Miller has become a go-to guy for Emmett-Furla, with him clearly having a knack for hitting budgets and schedules, but these assembly-line movies lack the edge and creativity he brought to his early work, THE AGGRESSION SCALE and UNDER THE BED. I’m sure there’s only so much he can do with the material, but I don’t understand why he gets saddled with such familiar material. If they’ve got Bruce Willis for a few days and a not-bad budget, why not opt for chancier material that a guy like Miller could actually sink his teeth into? Miller’s next film with them is ESCAPE PLAN 2, so hopefully with Sylvester Stallone’s input he’ll get a crack at something a little more ambitious, but we’ll see.

As it is, FIRST KILL is no better or worse than any other B-movie put out by Grindstone over the last few years. Other than a few shots where a clearly much-younger stand-in has been used for Willis (particularly the shots of him from the back in an early diner scene), it’s proficiently made, but the plot is by the numbers, and outside of a nifty ATV chase early on, the action beats are barely TV level. If you like these kinds of programmers, by all means check-it out. Otherwise, FIRST KILL is disposable product meant for a quick VOD cash-in and not much else.

First Kill



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.