Film Review: Wire Room (dir by Matt Eskandari)

Wire Room tells the story of Justin Rosa (Kevin Dillon).

Once upon a time, Justin was a member of the Secret Service.  But, for reasons that are never really made clear, Justin was eventually demoted and found himself working for Homeland Security.  After 18 years, Justin has finally achieved his dream.  He’s been assigned to a wire room, a high-tech command center where HSI agents conduct surveillance on high-profile criminals.  On his first day, Justin shows up late.  He gets yelled at by his superior, Shane Mueller (Bruce Willis).  Justin explains that he couldn’t find anywhere to park.  Shane is not impressed.  Of course, Shane takes a taxi to and from work because Shane is a total alcoholic who likes to spend his free time at the local strip club.

After meeting Shane and Nour Holborow (Shelby Cobb), Justin is left in the wire room alone.  His sole job is to keep an eye on a British arms dealer, Eddie Flynn (Oliver Trevena, who chews the scenery with relish).  Shane is obsessed with taking down not only Eddie but also all of the corrupt cops that are on Eddie’s payroll.  Eddie has no idea that his entire mansion is wired and that Homeland Security is watching him while he wanders around the house in his leopard-print robe.  Eddie also doesn’t know that a bunch of assassins are coming to his house to try to kill him.

Realizing that Eddie is about to be killed, Justin tries to call Shane but Shane is too busy getting drunk to answer his phone.  When Nour calls about an unrelated manner, Justin asks her for advice.  She tells him to call Shane.  He already tried that!  Realizing that Homeland Security is full of drunks and incompetents, Justin decides to call Eddie himself.  Soon, Justin and Eddie enter into an uneasy partnership.  Justin tries to keep Eddie alive while Eddie tries to figure out how Justin knows what’s happening at his house.  To me, it would seem like it shouldn’t be difficult for Eddie to figure out that Homeland Security has wired his house but no one in this movie is particularly smart.

Wire Room was one of the last movies that Bruce Willis made before announcing his retirement from acting.  Willis doesn’t get much screen time and his dialogue consists mostly of profane insults.  That said, it is nice to see Willis playing a good guy again and there’s even a few hints of the old Willis charisma to be found in his performance.  If nothing else, he seems to enjoy the scenes in which Shane gives Justin a hard time.  As for Justin, he really is a truly stupid character who makes so many obvious mistakes that it’s hard not to worry about the fact that he’s been entrusted with keeping the homeland safe.  Fortunately, Kevin Dillon is an actor who can make stupidity likable.  (There’s a reason why Johnny Drama was the only character on Entourage that anyone really cared about.)

Like the majority of Willis’s recent films, Wire Room is a low-budget action film.  The special effects aren’t particularly special and the action scenes are fairly rudimentary.  A huge problem with the film is that the viewer is never quite sure how close or how far anyone is from the titular location.  For instance, we’re continually told that people are heading towards the wire room but it seems like it takes them forever to actually show up.  At one point, we see a group of bad guys heading up to the wire room but, somehow, Justin and Shane still have time to scrounge up some weapons and have a fairly detailed conversation before any of them actually arrive.  For all of the shooting and the yelling, Wire Room also never convinces us that there’s much at stake as far as the story is concerned.  Shane, for instance, doesn’t seem to be particularly upset when Justin tells him about what is happening at Eddie’s house, despite the fact that Eddie’s death would destroy Shane’s investigation into police corruption.  If Shane, the man in charge of the investigation, doesn’t care about what happens then why should we?

That said, there is some perhaps unintentional enjoyment to be found in Wire Room.  Kevin Dillon plays Justin as being so dense and so slow-witted that the film almost becomes a parody of the recent spate of movies and television shows that have been released about hyper competent government agents.  There are laughs to be found and Bruce Willis gets to be the good guy again.  Wire Room is not a particularly memorable movie but it is a decent time waster.

Catching Up With The Films of 2022: Wrong Place (dir by Mike Burns)

After his wife is killed in a car crash, former police chief Frank Richards (Bruce Willis) takes a job as a security guard for a small town convenience store.  It’s not really a demanding job.  As we see in one montage, Frank spends most of his time playing solitaire.  However, one evening, Frank steps out back to have a cigar and he just happens to catch meth dealer Virgil Brown (Massi Furlan) executing a man.  Frank promptly disarms and arrest Virgil.

Virgil’s son, Jake (Michael Sirow), is not happy about this.  Knowing that Frank is the only eyewitness who can testify against Virgil at his trail, Jake heads off to kill Frank.  However, when Jake arrives at Frank’s cabin, he discovers that it is inhabited by Frank’s daughter, Chloe (Ashley Greene), and her girlfriend, Tammy (Stacey Danger).  Jake tries to take Chloe and Tammy hostage but Chloe turns out to be a lot tougher than he assumed.  Chloe is waiting to hear whether or not she’s cancer-free and, as she explains to Jake, she has nothing to lose by risking her life and fighting him.  And while Jake is certainly dangerous and quick to fire his gun, he’s also not the most competent criminal to ever come out of the backwoods of Alabama.  If you’re guessing that this leads to several scenes of various characters chasing each other through the woods and shooting at each other, congratulations!  You’re right!

This was one of the last films that Willis made before announcing his retirement last year.  Watching the film, it’s easy to see that Willis was struggling a bit.  There’s none of the swagger that viewers typically associate with Bruce Willis and he delivers many of his lines in a flat monotone.  That said, this film is still a better showcase for Willis than American Siege or Fortress: Sniper’s Eye.  Indeed, in the early scenes with his soon-to-be-deceased wife, Willis feels a bit like the Willis of old.  Even if Bruce Willis was struggling to remember his lines, his eyes still revealed a lot of emotional depth.  In the scenes where he and his wife discuss getting older and mention how scary it is to be sick, the dialogue carries an extra resonance.  If nothing else, the role of a decent man who will do anything to protect his family seems like a more appropriate final role for Willis than the various crime bosses that he played in some of his other ’22 films.

Unfortunately, Wrong Place gets bogged down with the whole hostage subplot.  There’s only so much time that you can spend watching people yell at each other before you lose interest.  Ashley Greene, Stacey Danger, and Michael Sirow all give convincing performances but the film itself falls into a rut.  When Jake is first introduced, he seems like he could be an interesting villain.  He doesn’t really know what he’s doing but he’s determined to impress his father.  (Sadly, it’s pretty obvious that Jake’s father will never be impressed with anything Jake does, regardless of what it may be.)  Jake’s incompetence makes him even more dangerous because it also makes him impulsive and quick to anger.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do much with his character.  Once the action kicks in, he just become another generic backwoods villain.

I get the feeling that the director meant for Wrong Place to be more than just another action film.  The film moves at its own deliberate pace and, even after the hostage situation has concluded, the film still goes on for another ten minutes.  One gets the feeling that the director wanted to make a sensitive film about the relationship between a headstrong daughter and her old-fashioned father.  But, because this film was also a low-budget action film, he also had to toss in some backwoods meth dealers.  The film has some moments of unexpected emotional honesty, many of them curtesy of Ashley Greene.  But, in the end, it keeps getting bogged down with endless scenes of people running through the woods with guns.  The end result is an uneven film but at least Willis gets to play a hero again.

Catching Up With The Films of 2022: White Elephant (dir by Jesse V. Johnson)

White Elephant is not that bad.  In fact, for a B-action movie it’s actually pretty good.  If nothing else, it featured one of Michael Rooker’s best performances.

It’s important to start out this review by making that clear because I think a lot of people are going to be tempted to judge this film based solely on the fact that this was one of the last films that Bruce Willis made before his family announced that he would be retiring from acting due to health reasons.  When the big story was published in the L.A. Times about Willis’s recent struggles and how those struggles led to him accepting countless roles in straight-to-video fare like American Siege, several people who worked on White Elephant were quoted, with many saying that Willis always did his best but that he was definitely not the Willis that they all remembered.  The film’s director, action maestro Jesse V. Johnson, publicly stated that he would not make another film with Willis because “the arrangement felt wrong” and that Willis deserved a better end to his career.

And it must be said that Bruce is obviously not himself in White Elephant.  As with many of his recent films, Bruce is cast as a villain in this piece.  He’s a crime lord named Arnold and he spends the majority of his time taking meetings and giving order to his underlings.  Eventually, he does pick up a gun and fire it but there’s very little of the cocky attitude and swaggering charisma that made Bruce Willis into a superstar.  He still has the physical presence to play a tough guy.  Bruce Willis still looks intimidating and the film uses him sparingly, never allowing us to spend too much time focusing on how different he seems from the Bruce Willis who starred in Die Hard and Pulp Fiction.  One never gets the feeling that Bruce is being deliberately exploited in White Elephant, that alone sets it above some of the other recent films that have featured Willis.  But, at the same time, Arnold is a fairly generic bad guy.

Fortunately, the majority of the film follows Michael Rooker in the role of a far more interesting criminal.  Rooker plays Gabe Tancredi, a former Marine turned hitman.  He’s about as ruthless as they come but he still has enough of a code of ethics that he realizes that he can’t kill a police officer named Vanessa (Olga Kurylenko), no matter how much Arnold wants her dead.  Ordered to kill her, Gabe instead protects her, which leads to Arnold sending all of his men after them.  It leads to several shootouts and explosions as Gabe puts his life at risk to finally do the right thing.

It’s a simple story but it’s told well.  Jesse V. Johnson started out as a stuntman and he clearly knows his way around an action scene and the final shootout in genuinely exciting.  The film is also helped by Michael Rooker, who brings a good deal of unexpected depth to the role of Gabe.  Even though Rooker obviously knew that White Elephant was a B-movie, he still refuses to phone in a single minute of his performance and, instead, he turns Gabe into a surprisingly complex killer.  Gabe’s relationships with his agent Glen (John Malkovich), his protegee Carlos (Vadhir Debrez), and Vanessa are all genuinely interesting.  I especially liked the early scenes between Rooker and Debrez, in which the two actors wonderfully play off of each other and we get the feeling Carlos is almost like a son to Gabe.  Of course, being genre savvy, we know that Carlos is eventually going to be assigned to take Gabe down but, because their friendship seemed so real, we find ourselves dreading that confrontation.  White Elephant is a B-movie but, much like last year’s Corrective Measures and Gasoline Alley, it’s a B-movie with a heart.

Holiday Film Review: The Last Boy Scout (dir by Tony Scott)

My God, what a violent holiday season!

Like the majority of the films that have been written and/or directed by Shane Black, The Last Boy Scout takes place in December.  It’s not quite as Christmas-y as some of Black’s other films.  I think that I may have spotted a few decorations in the background of some of the scenes.  And there’s a scene where private investigator Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) discovers that his daughter (played by a very young Danielle Harris) has been drawing pictures of “Satan Claus.”  Otherwise, there’s not a lot of Christmas to be found in this December-set film and perhaps that’s for the best.  Seriously, this movie is violent!  Not even the comedic relief characters are safe from getting a bullet to the head.  This is a film that actually begins with a football player shooting three other players during a game and then saying, “Ain’t life a bitch,” before shooting himself in the head.

The film’s plot isn’t always easy to follow.  Joe is a private investigator who drinks too much and whose partner has just been blown up in front of his house.  (His partner was also sleeping with Joe’s wife so guess who is now a suspect!)  Joe is also hired to act as a bodyguard for a stripper named Cory (Halle Berry).  Cory is dating Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), a former quarterback who used to be Joe’s hero.  Then Jimmy got kicked out of the league for gambling and Joe stopped watching football.  Cory says that she has a tape recording that will get Joe back into the NFL.  But then, Cory is brutally gunned down in the middle of the street and the tape is accidentally destroyed by Joe’s crappy tape player.  It’s time for Jimmy and Joe to team up, trade one liners, and uncover the conspiracy.

It all links back to the efforts of football team owner Shelley Marcuse (Noble Willingham) to legalize gambling.  Senator Calvin Baynard (Chelcie Ross) is standing in Marcuse’s way because Marcuse didn’t offer him a big enough bribe.  Marcuse is planning to assassinate the senator and he’s going to frame Joe for the crime because, in an amazing coincidence, Joe used to be a secret service agent until he caught Senator Baynard torturing a sex worker.  Of course, the actual assassination will be carried out by Marcuse’s chief henchman, Milo (Taylor Negron, who is absolutely chilling in the role).  Milo rarely shows emotion and always refers to everyone by their formal name.  (Joe is called Joseph.  Jimmy is called James.)  Milo is also a total sociopath, one who will shoot anyone in the head without a second thought.

Shane Black, who is a genius regardless of what I may think of this particular film, has said that he wrote The Last Boy Scout after he broke up with a longtime girlfriend and he was suffering from depression.  Disillusionment hangs over almost every frame of the movie.  Joe did the right thing and lost his career.  Jimmy lost his family on the same night that he played the best game of his career.  The Senator is opposed to Marcuse’s scheme solely because he’s not getting enough of a cut.  Marcuse is a respected businessman who thinks little of killing strangers.  Jimmy and Joe are heroes not because they’re particularly good but because everyone else around them is just so bad.  This is also very much a movie about guys doing guy things.  I watched it with my brother-in-law and I have to say that I think he got a bit more out of the film than I did.  Then again, I also think my sister Megan also got more out of it than I did so maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to watch so many people get shot in the head.  It happens.

The Last Boy Scout was directed by Tony Scott so, no matter what else you might want to say about it, the movie looks great.  Willis seems a bit bored with the film and Wayans sometimes struggles with the more dramatic moments.  In many ways, the film feels like a precursor to Shane Black’s The New Guys, though Willis and Wayans never have the same chemistry as Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling did in that underrated film.  However, The Last Boy Scout’s action moves quickly and the screen is always full of neon lights.  It’s a well-made action movie though, unlike Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and The Nice Guys, it’s not one that really sticks around in your head after the end credits roll.  Personally, I think it needed a little more holiday spirit.

Holiday Film Review: Die Hard 2: Die Harder (dir by Renny Harlin)

During 1990’s Die Hard 2, John McClane (Bruce Willis) asks himself, “How can the same shit happen to the same person twice?” and he does have a point.

I mean, consider the situation.  In 1988, McClane spent his Christmas sneaking around a skyscraper and saving his wife from a group of sadistic mercenaries.  Two years later, John McClane spends his Christmas sneaking around an airport and saving his wife from a group of sadistic mercenaries.

There are a few differences of course.  In 1988, the mercenaries were only interested in stealing as much money as they could and each mercenary had his own properly ghoulish personality.  In 1990, the mercenaries are really more of a cult, led by the fanatical Col. Stuart (William Sadler).  And, along with trying to make some money, they are also trying to free General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), a Central American drug lord and former CIA asset.  Despite the fact that the mercenaries are played by familiar actors (like Robert Patrick, John Leguizamo, Tony Ganois, and Vondie Curtis-Hall), none of them are quite as memorable as the henchmen that Alan Rickman commanded in the first film.  And while Sadler has charisma and makes a big impression during his first scene, his character is nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as Hans Gruber.  Franco Nero, it must be said, is as dashing as ever.  He really seems to be having fun in this movie.

A lot more people die in Die Hard 2 than died in the first Die Hard and the majority of them are innocent bystanders.  This isn’t like the first film, where Harry Ellis died because his coke-addled mind led him to believe that he could outsmart Gruber.  The victims in Die Hard 2 include a friendly church caretaker and over 200 passengers of an airplane that Stuart tricks into crashing on an airport runway.  The scene where the plane crashes remains disturbing no matter how many times that you see it and it truly makes you hate Colonel Stuart.  When the plane crashes, despite McClane’s futile efforts to warn the pilots, McClane sobs and it’s a powerful scene because it’s the first scene in which McClane has not had a quip or a one-liner ready to go.  In this scene, McClane fails to save the day and, for a few minutes, he’s helpless.  I usually end up crying with McClane.  Today, those tears are also a reminder of what a good actor Bruce Willis truly could be whenever he let down his defenses and allowed himself to be vulnerable on screen.

Die Hard 2 is usually dismissed as not being as good as the first movie and …. well, that’s correct.  It’s not as good but then again, few actions films are.  There’s a reason why Die Hard continues to be held in such high regard.  That said, Die Hard 2 is not bad.  The stakes are a bit higher and the action scenes a bit more elaborate, as you would expect from a film directed by Renny Harlin.  Bruce Willis plays McClane with the blue collar swagger that made his such an awesome hero in the first film.  Bonnie Bedelia and William Atherton also return from the first film and Atherton once again gets his comeuppance in a crowd-pleasing moment.  The cast is full of character actors, all of whom get a chance to make an impression.  Dennis Franz is the profane head of security who eventually turns out to be not such a bad guy.  John Amos is the major who eventually turns out to be not such a good guy.  Colm Meaney has a few heart-breaking moments as the pilot of the doomed airplane.  My favorite supporting performance is given by Fred Thompson, bringing his quiet authority to the role of tough but fair-minded Air Traffic Control director.  Watching Die Hard 2, it does feel as if the viewer has been dropped in the middle of these people’s lives.  Everyone seems real.  No one seems like a mere plot device.

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?  You bet it is!  But so is Die Hard 2 and it’s not a bad one.

Holiday Film Review: Die Hard (dir by John McTiernan)

Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

And, in an alternative universe, it was a Frank Sinatra movie.

Released into theaters in 1988, Die Hard was based on a novel called Nothing Lasts ForeverNothing Lasts Forever told roughly the same story as Die Hard, with one of the big exceptions being that the cop fighting the terrorists was not the youngish and quippy John McClane but instead was a weary, aging and retired detective named Joe Leland.  Leland previously appeared in another novel called The Detective.  In 1968, The Detective was turned into a film and the role of Leland was played by Frank Sinatra.  As a part of his contract, Sinatra had the right to play Leland in any sequels to The Detective.  When Die Hard was in pre-production, Sinatra could have demanded that the film be a Joe Leland film and that he be allowed to star in it.  Fortunately, Sinatra did not do that and Joe Leland was instead transformed into John McClane.  And, after the role was was turned down by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Don Johnson, Harrison Ford, Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, James Caan, Al Pacino, and Richard Dean Anderson, popular television actor Bruce Willis finally received the role.

Seriously, just consider that.  Bruce Willis was not only not the first choice for John McClane but even Richard Dean Anderson was offered the role before the filmmakers finally went with Willis.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else starring in Die Hard because, to most of us, Bruce Willis is John McClane.  Growing up and watching Die Hard on television every Christmas, it was very easy to assume that Willis probably spent all of his spare time fighting terrorists and coming up with snarky quips.  Definitely, it’s difficult to imagine Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the role.  What made McClane such a compelling hero was that he wasn’t superhuman.  He was just a blue collar guy who hurt his feet, got tired, and had his moments of frustration just like everyone else.  He was the relatable action hero.  It didn’t matter how many stories that one heard about Bruce Willis having an ego or occasionally being difficult to work with.  Bruce Willis was John McClane and, after everything that McClane had been though, he had every right to occasionally be difficult.

You’ll notice that I haven’t really discussed the plot of Die Hard because …. well, everyone knows that plot.  I mean, this is one of those films that has such a permanent place in pop cultural history that even people who somehow haven’t seen the film still know what it’s about.  John McClane is an NYPD cop who flies to Los Angeles to see his estranged wife, Holly, for Christmas.  Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) works for the Nakatomi Corporation.  During the company’s Christmas party, terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the skyscraper.  The terrorists claim to be politically-motivated but, actually, they just want to break into the building’s vault and make off with a lot of money.  McClane makes his way through the unfinished skyscraper, killing the terrorists one-by-one.  He only has two allies.  Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is an LAPD sergeant who is outside the building and who communicates with McClane via radio.  Argyle (De’Veroux White) is the friendly limo driver who spends almost the entire siege oblivious in the parking garage.  (The first time I ever watched Die Hard, I was so worried something bad would happen to Argyle.)

McClane has a lot of enemies and not all of them are terrorists.  The Deputy Chief of the LAPD (Paul Gleason) thinks that McClane is making the situation worse.  Two FBI agent, both named Johnson (and played by Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), seem to view the entire siege as being a game with the older Johnson talking about how much it reminds him of Vietnam.  A reporter (William Atherton) makes the situation worse with his on-the-spot reports.  Meanwhile, there’s Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner).  A coke-addled executive, Ellis actually thinks that he’s helping McClane by trying to negotiate with Gruber.  I know that some people can’t stand Ellis but I always feel sorry for him.  In his way, he was trying to help and you could tell that he was so proud of himself for not telling Gruber that McClane was in Los Angeles to see Holly.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of action in Die Hard.  A lot of people die.  One thing that I appreciate the movie is that the bad guys get as upset over their friends and family being killed as McClane gets over Holly being threatening.  No one in the film is one-dimensional and even the bad guys have their own distinct personalities.  Theo (Clarence Gilyard) gets so excited about the idea of opening the vault that you can’t help but relate.  Karl (Alexander Godonuv) appears to be nearly indestructible.  Hans Gruber may be totally evil but he has a quick wit and there’s something intriguing about how confident he is.  Alan Rickman, famously, was not happy that his first role led to him being typecast as an international villain and one can’t blame him.  Still, almost every action movie villain who has followed has owed something to Alan Rickman.  Just as it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Bruce Willis as John McClane, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber.

(That said, I’m sure there’s another alternate universe out there, right next to the Sinatra universe, where Blade Runner was not as troubled a production as it was and, as a result, Die Hard was made with Ridley Scott directing, Harrison Ford starring as McClane, and Rutger Hauer playing Hans.)

For all of the action, there’s also a lot of moments that make me laugh out loud and I’m not just talking about McClane’s one liners.  The two FBI agents don’t get much screentime but Davi and Bush make the most of what they have.  Paul Gleason is wonderfully deadpan as the clueless Chief Robinson.  Even Rickman gets his share of laughs.  “I read about them in Time Magazine” indeed.

Die Hard is a Christmas tradition with my family and a lot of other families as well.  Does Die Hard count as a Christmas movie?  I would say yes.  The terrorists may not respect the holiday but John McClane does.  No one ruins McClane’s Christmas!

Film Review: Corrective Measures (dir by Sean O’Reilly)

Welcome to the future!

War is raging.  Food is scarce.  At the start of the film, a newscaster officially says farewell to Australia as it’s swallowed by the ocean.  Due to some sort of vaguely defined cosmic event, certain citizens have developed super powers.  Normally, you might think that would be a good thing.  Maybe someone can use their super strength to save Australia.  Instead, it’s led to a rise in supervillains.  People with names like The Conductor and the Lobe are terrorizing the world.  Fortunately (or not), a prison has been designed to hold all of these super villains.

Running that prison is Overseer Devlin (Michael Rooker).  Devlin is quick to correct anyone who calls him a warden.  That said, Devlin runs his prison with a firm and sometimes cruel hand.  All of the inmates are forced to wear a leg brace that neutralizes their powers.  They’re at Devlin’s mercy and Devlin knows it.  A sentence to San Tiburon prison is a life sentence, regardless of what the courts may say.  No one gets parole unless Devlin wants them too and Devlin’s not in the business of giving people freedom.

Corrective Measures follows four inmates in particular.  Diego Diaz (Brennan Meija) is an empath, a super power that will be of little help in a prison where empathy is seen as a weakness.  Gordon Tweedy (Tom Cavanagh) is also known as the Conductor because he can control electricity.  Payback (Dan Payne) is a self-styled vigilante who killed evildoers on the outside and who looks forward to killing more on the inside.  Finally, there’s the Lobe (Bruce Willis), who is the most feared supervillain of all.  The Lobe can control minds, but only if his leg brace is removed.  While the Warden prepares for his retirement and considers who among his staff he should name as a his replacement, the inmates simply try to survive from one day to the next.

Corrective Measures is an episodic film, with the focus continually shifting from one character to another.  When the film begins, Payback seems like he’s going to be the main character but then the focus shifts to Diego and The Conductor.  Towards the end of the film, the focus switches once again and it becomes about The Lobe and his schemes.  The one theme running through the entire film is the struggle to maintain one’s freedom and dignity in even the most difficult of circumstances.  Yes, Corrective Measures might be a low-budget super hero film and yes, it was based on a graphic novel but it’s also a mediation on what it means to be free in a society that persecutes anyone who is perceived as failing to conform.  That theme elevates the film, making it more than just a B-movie.  If Sam Fuller directed a comic book movie, it would probably look something like Corrective Measures.

The actors also do wonders with the material, with Michael Rooker giving an entertainingly evil performance as Warden Devlin and Tom Cavanagh turning The Conductor into a surprisingly poignant character.  That said, I imagine most people will be watching this film because it was one of the final films that Bruce Willis worked on before announcing his retirement from acting.  It is true that Willis does spend the majority of this film in his cell.  It’s rare that he’s ever actually seen in a shot with any of the other actors, leading me to suspect that Willis probably shot all of his scenes in a day or two.  Despite that, Willis is well-cast as The Lobe and there’s even a few scenes where he seems like the Willis of old, smirking at his opponents and dismissing them with a well-timed insult.  While it’s obvious that Willis was not in the best shape when he shot his scenes, Corrective Measures still feels like a better closing act than something like American Siege.

Corrective Measures is a far better film than I think anyone would have expected it to be.  It’s a celebration of freedom that understands why it’s worth celebrating.

Film Review: Vendetta (dir by Jared Cohn)

It’s a dangerous world out there, make no doubt about it.

William Duncan (Clive Standen) thought that his days of violence were behind him.  Sure, he did a tour of duty in the military.  And yes, he was trained how to kill a man.  In fact, he was trained how to kill dozens of men and he did just that as a part of his patriotic duty.  But that was the past.  Now, William lives in the suburbs of Atlanta and he’s got a pretty nice life.

Unfortunately, one day, William’s life falls apart, shortly after he picks up his 16 year-old daughter, Kat (Maddie Nichols), from softball practice.  William’s plan is to pick up his daughter, grab some food for dinner, and then head home.  Unfortunately, a gang led by Rory Fetter (Theo Rossi) has a different idea.  The time has come for Rory’s younger brother, Danny (Cabot Badsen), to be initiated into the gang.  At first, it seems like Danny doesn’t even want to join the gang but still, when he’s ordered to murder a random bystander, he does so.  That bystander happens to be Kat.

Danny’s arrested for the murder but he’s released due to the influence of his father, a powerful gangster named Donnie (Bruce Willis).  Having been failed by the legal system, William decides to put his military training to good use and get his vengeance.  At first, he’s armed with only his dead daughter’s softball bat.  Later, he joins up with an arms dealer named Dante (Thomas Jane) and the war truly begins.

It should also be noted that Dante is friends with a shady garage owner named Roach.  Roach is played by Mike Tyson.  Yes, that Mike Tyson.  Tyson doesn’t really get to do much as Roach.  His garage does serve as one of the film’s many battlegrounds but, for the most part, Tyson is something of a bystander.  It’s easy to see that the main reason he was included in the film was because it would inevitably cause at least a few potential viewers to say, “Hey, Mike Tyson’s in this!  Let’s watch!”  That said, even with his limited screen time, Mike Tyson has a surprisingly likable screen presence.  I don’t think that anyone will ever mistake Tyson for being an actor of great range but he does a good enough job here that it would be foolish for someone not to cast him in a bigger role in a future low-budget action flick.

As for Vendetta, it’s about as pulpy as pulp can get.  It’s an action/revenge flick that makes no excuse for being an action/revenge flick and, as a result, it’s difficult not to be entertained by it.  The story moves quickly, there aren’t really any slow spots, and the cast does well with their roles.  That includes Bruce Willis.  This, of course, is one of Willis’s final films.  Watching the films that were released after Willis revealed that he was retiring due to aphasia can feel a bit awkward as it’s obvious that the Willis who appeared in these films was quite a bit different from the Willis who appeared in Die Hard.  That said, Willis is effectively intimidating in Vendetta.  Even if he doesn’t display the wiseguy charm that was his trademark, Willis still has enough of his streetwise, tough guy screen presence that the viewers will be able to buy him as being a feared crime boss.

As far as 2022’s collection of Bruce Willis films go, Vendetta isn’t bad.  It’s maybe a smidgen below Gasoline Alley (which, as of this writing, is the best Willis film of 2022) but it’s a hundred times better than American Siege and A Day To Die.

Film Review: Fortress: Sniper’s Eye (dir by Josh Sternfeld)

Fortress: Sniper’s Eye is a sequel to the 2021 film, Fortress.

If you haven’t seen Fortress, the plot goes something like this.  A group of mercenaries take over a resort that is populated by retired spies.  Robert Michaels (Bruce Willis) and his son, Paul (Jesse Metcalfe), have to set aside their difference and work together to defeat Frederick Balzary (Chad Michael Murray).

Meanwhile, the plot of Fortress: Sniper’s Eye goes something like this.  A group of mercenaries take over a now-closed resort that was once populated by retired spies.  Robert Michaels (Bruce Willis) and his son, Paul (Jesse Metcalfe), have to continue to set aside their difference and work together to defeat Frederick Balzary (Chad Michael Murray).

Now, to the film’s credit, Sniper’s Eye does admit that it’s largely recycling the plot of the first film.  When Balzary and his henchmen show up for a second time, Paul exclaims, “Didn’t any of you die!?”  It’s a funny line and one that shows that Sniper’s Eye is aware that it’s all a bit ludicrous.  Whatever other faults the film may have, you can’t complain that it’s not self-aware.

Unfortunately, when Balzary and his people invade for the second time, Paul is hosting a gathering with his fiancée and his future mother-in-law.  They’re all taken hostage.  Because Robert was wounded while rescuing Balzary’s wife from some killer Russians, he spends most of the the movie providing encouragement from a hospital bed.  Fortunately, towards the end of the movie, he is able to get out of bed and help out his son.  Paul is obviously happy to see his father and the viewers are happy to see Bruce Willis actually doing some action stuff.

Needless to say, Willis is going to be the main attraction for most viewers.  (I imagine a few One Tree Hill fans will be watching for Chad Michael Murray.)  Sniper’s Eye was one of the film that Willis completed before announcing his retirement from acting.  Knowing what we now know about Willis’s health and the conditions under which he made his final films, watching something like Fortress: Sniper’s Eye can feel awkward.  I cringed when I saw Willis in the hospital bed, looking tired and talking about how he was getting too old to play the hero.  At that moment, it felt as if the character and the actor became the same and it was a bit difficult to watch.

That said, Bruce Willis gives a convincing performance in Fortress: Sniper’s Eye.  He may not have the same charismatic swagger that he had when he was healthy but Willis does still look credible sneaking down a hallway while carrying a gun.  Even though the action scenes all use a rather obvious stunt double, Willis is still convincing in his role.

As for the rest of the film, the pacing is abysmal and the performances are uneven, with Jesse Metcalde making a bland hero and Chad Michael Murray going overboard as the main villain.  This is another film with a jumbled timeline so I feel sorry for anyone who is looking away from the screen whenever the “Two weeks later” title card flashes by.  On the plus side, the resort scenery was nice to look at and Natali Yura gave a convincing performance as Balzary’s wife.  As far as Bruce Willis’s later films are concerned, Fortress: Sniper’s Eye is superior to American Siege but comes in far below both Gasoline Alley and A Day To Die.

Film Review: A Day To Die (dir by Wes Miller)

A Day To Die is a low-budget action film with a ludicrously complicated plot.

The film opens with an elite SWAT team reacting to a terrorist incident in a small town.  A group of white supremacists have taken over a hundred hostages in a high school.  An elite SWAT team, led by Brice Mason (Frank Grillo) and Connor Connolly (Kevin Dillon), attempt to rescue the hostages but a mistake leads to the school blowing up and many of the hostages dying.  Corrupt police chief Alston (Bruce Willis) breaks up the SWAT team.  Some of the members become auto mechanics.  Some of them become drug addicts.  Connor becomes a …. parole officer.

A year or so later, Connor is forced to kill one of the henchmen of the local drug lord, Pettis (Leon).  Pettis is upset because, by his estimation, the dead man would have brought in over two million dollars over the course of his career.  Pettis orders Connor to steal two million to pay off his “debt.”  Pettis gives Connor 12 hours to find the money and, just for good measure, he kidnaps Connor’s pregnant wife (Brooke Butler).

Pettis suggests that Connor get the money by robbing a rival’s drug house.  With no other choice, Connor puts in a call to Brice and soon, the old SWAT team has gathered in a garage.  Quicker than you can say Fast and Furious, the team is talking about how they’re family.  If Connor needs them to rob a bunch of drug dealers, that’s what they’re going to do.  However, they’re also going to take down Pettis in the process.  Of course, what they don’t realize is that Pettis has a connection of his own with Chief Alston.

Probably the best thing that can be said about A Day To Die is that Bruce Willis seems to be remarkably steady on his feet.  This was one of the batch of films that Willis made before his family announced that he was retiring from acting.  Knowing what we now know about not only his health but also the allegations that Willis wasn’t always sure what type of films he was being singed up for, it’s always a bit awkward to watch his last few films.  But, in A Day To Die, Willis actually gives a credible performance as the corrupt police chief.  Though there’s not much of evidence of the swaggering wise guy charisma that made Willis a star, Willis still delivers his lines convincingly and he seems to be invested in the character.  While I’m faintly praising the film, I should also mention that Leon appears to be having fun with the role of the sharply-dressed drug dealer and Frank Grillo is his usual rugged self.  They’re all good enough to keep you watching.

Unfortunately, Kevin Dillon uses the same facial expression that he used when he played Johnny Drama on Entourage and, as a result, it’s a bit difficult to take him seriously as an action hero.  (If anything A Day To Die seems like the type of film that everyone would laugh at Johnny for doing while Vince was appearing in Martin Scorsese’s Gatsby.)  Ultimately, the film is done in by an overcomplicated plot that really doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.  As entertaining as Leon is, Pettis’s actions never really make sense.  In the end, A Day To Die is better than American Siege but nowhere close to Gasoline Alley.