D: Eli Roth / 107m
Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp, Kimberly Elise, Len Cariou, Jack Kesy, Ronnie Gene Blevins
Paul Kersey (Willis) is a trauma surgeon working at a Chicago hospital. He has a wife, Lucy (Shue), and a teenage daughter, Jordan (Morrone), who is about to go off to college. One night, while Kersey is working, three burglars break into his home while everyone is out, but Lucy and Jordan return while they’re still there. Lucy is killed, and Jordan suffers a skull fracture that leaves her in a coma. The police, represented by Detective Kevin Raines (Norris) and Detective Leonore Jackson (Elise), offer hope that they’ll catch the men responsible, but with no leads, time passes and Kersey begins to wonder if he’ll ever have justice for his family. Angry at the police’s inability to protect people, Kersey becomes a vigilante, and earns the soubriquet The Grim Reaper. When a gunshot victim is admitted to the ER and is wearing one of Kersey’s stolen watches, it provides him with enough information to begin tracking down the men the police can’t find. But as he hunts them down, Raines and Jackson become suspicious of his actions, and the leader of the men (Knapp) targets him directly…
The idea of a remake of Michael Winner’s exploitation “classic” has been mooted for a while now (since 2006 when Sylvester Stallone was set to direct and star). There have been a few stops and starts along the way, and now we have the combination of Eli Roth and Bruce Willis, and a movie that has all the charm and appeal of applying haemorrhoid cream. There’s no other way of putting it: this incarnation of Death Wish is appalling, a right-wing political tract that lacks the courage of its own convictions, and strives for relevance in a day and age where violence is a sad, every day occurrence in the good old US of A. While talking heads debate the merits of having a vigilante on the streets of Chicago, Willis’s monotone Kersey goes on a journey of violent wish-fulfillment that screams “under-developed!” For a surgeon with no previous experience of handling a gun even, he’s able to act with impunity (he takes out a drug dealer on the street – in daylight – without being shot at by anyone), and even when he takes on the burglars, he leaves no evidence of his involvement.
So while Kersey gets away with murder, the police amble through proceedings like unwitting sleepwalkers at a narcolepsy convention (they even have time to joke about their investigation with their boss). It’s laughable, and something of an insult to the talent and skill of Joe Carnahan, the sole credited writer of this farrago, whose original script was re-written once Roth came on board. With a plethora of poorly written characters (D’Onofrio plays Kersey’s brother, but why he’s even there is impossible to work out), dialogue that sounds like a deaf person’s idea of dialogue, and Kersey’s motivations remaining murky at best, this is further sabotaged by Roth’s inability to maintain a consistent tone or invest proceedings with any appreciable energy. Willis continues to look bored out of his skull (a too common occurrence these days), the bad guys are straight out of generic villain central casting, and the action scenes are the nearest the movie comes to waking up. It has all the hallmarks of a movie that was rushed into production before the rights ran out, or worse, was rushed into production without anyone having a clear idea of what they were doing. So they truly did have a death wish…
Rating: 3/10 – abandoning any notion of moral ambiguity from the outset, Death Wish – Roth’s exploitation-free remake – is as dull as they come, and as ineptly handled as you’d expect; if you need any proof, just watch the early scene where Kersey “consoles” a cop whose partner has just died – and then hang your head in dismay.
D: Mark Cullen / 94m
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Famke Janssen, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Goldberg, Emily Robinson, Maurice Compte, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomes, Adrian Martinez, Ken Davitian, Tyga, Wood Harris, Christopher McDonald, Kal Penn, Elisabeth Röhm
Steve Ford (Willis) is a private detective. He doesn’t appear to take anything seriously, except for his dog, Buddy. Buddy is the most important part of Steve’s life, and even though the dog spends more time with Steve’s niece, Taylor (Robinson), the bond between the two is unbreakable. While being chased – naked and on a skateboard – by the brothers of a young woman (Gomes) he shouldn’t be “seeing”, Steve is helped by an old friend, Tino (Martinez), who does so on one condition: that Steve retrieves Tino’s car, which has been stolen by a local gang. The gang’s leader is Spyder (Momoa), and when Steve manages to steal the car back, Spyder retaliates by stealing stuff from Taylor’s home – including Buddy. Steve tries to get Buddy back from Spyder, and they agree on a deal, but when Steve comes through he learns that Spyder’s girlfriend, Lupe (Sigman), has disappeared, taking Buddy and a briefcase full of drugs with her. Spyder makes Steve another deal: find Lupe and retrieve the briefcase, and Buddy can come back to him.
From time to time, a movie comes along that looks like the very definition of unprepossessing, and which you’re pretty certain is going to be either a disappointment, or a big letdown, or both. It’s a movie that requires little conscious thought in order to watch it, and which is likely to be about as memorable as that time you can’t remember from a week ago. Once Upon a Time in Venice is one such movie. There’s a phrase: so bad it’s good, and sometimes it’s an apt phrase, but not here. This is, and let’s not forget it or make allowances for it, a bad movie. On so many levels, from the performances, to the script, to the direction, and the casual stereotyping (or racism, if you want to use a stronger term). This is a movie that gets so much wrong it’s almost as if the makers were challenging themselves to under achieve. And yet… and yet… while it may appear unprepossessing, it’s also an unlikely candidate for Guilty Pleasure of 2017. It’s definitely not so bad that it’s good, it’s so bad that it’s actually enjoyable… though not always for the right reasons.
Now, we’ve become used to Bruce Willis phoning in his performances over the last ten years – notable exceptions: Moonrise Kingdom and Looper (both 2012) – and here it’s no different, but for some reason the silliness and the absurdity of it all, and the very broad acting ranges on display, actually help to make this movie more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Willis as Steve is like an eclectic combination of John McClane and the Three Stooges (though without the eye poking and the face slapping). Goodman plays Steve’s best friend, Dave, as if he’s having a stroke the whole time, while Momoa’s drug lord(!) is a muscular mumbler, short on smarts and far too easily manipulated. The plot seems to have been made up on the spot during filming, and Cullen’s direction is so loose that it’s in danger of being blown away. Whether it’s Willis in drag (not a pretty sight), or homophobic grafitti directed at minor character Lou the Jew (Goldberg) (the script actually says the soubriquet isn’t offensive because he calls himself that), this is a movie you can only follow along blindly, accepting it for what it is – very bad indeed – but enjoying it nevertheless.
Rating: 4/10 – somehow grabbing an extra point just by virtue of how barmy it all is, Once Upon a Time in Venice is a low-brow crime caper that contains way too much bad acting, way too much bad dialogue, and way too much bad everything else; but somehow it’s a movie you can laugh with instead of at, and it’s a movie that has to be seen to be believed… on so many levels.
When we see certain stars in their movies we’re prone to making subconcious conclusions about them: what they’re like off-camera (how nice or how nasty), what they might like to do in their spare time, and sometimes, if they’re single, that we’d be the perfect partner for them (creepy yes, but in a non-stalker kind of way, you know?). Some stars have been around long enough for most people to know that they’re not originally from the country we associate them with. For example, Mel Gibson is generally regarded as Australian but was actually born in the good old US of A. And Audrey Hepburn – American? British? – was born in Belgium. In the spirit of full disclosure, here are ten stars who weren’t born in the country you think they were. See how many of them you knew already.
1 – Emma Watson – the star of the Harry Potter movies, and more recently, Regression (2015), looks and sounds like the quintessential English rose, but guess again. Although both her parents are English, Miss Watson was actually born in Paris, France.
2 – Eva Green – the mercurial, fearless star of movies such as Casino Royale (2006) and 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) has a classical beauty that could have originated in any of a dozen countries around the globe, but like Emma Watson, Green was born in Paris, France.
3 – Keanu Reeves – with his Hawaiian Christian name and chiselled good looks, you could be forgiven for believing Reeves to be as American as they come, but in fact the star of The Matrix (1999) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) was born in Beirut, Lebanon.
4 – Bruce Willis – the tough-as-nails star of Die Hard (1988) and The Sixth Sense (1999) – like so many others in this list – is generally regarded as American through and through but again, appearances can be (and are) deceiving, as Willis was born in Idar-Oberstein in the former West Germany.
5 – Rose Byrne – an actress whose career began back in 1994 as the unfortunately named Rastus Summers in Dallas Doll, Byrne has made a name for herself in recent years in a number of R-rated comedies, and while she seems as American as the next actress, she was actually born in Balmain, Australia.
6 – Oscar Isaac – with his dark, brooding looks, Isaac has a cosmopolitan aura about him that, like Eva Green, could mean he was born just about anywhere, but while he’s played a Russian in Pu239 (2006), and a Mexican in For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada (2012) – amongst others – Isaac actually heralds from Guatemala.
7 – Michael Fassbender – despite having grown up in Northern Ireland and having made a name for himself in a handful of well-received British movies, including Hunger (2008) and Fish Tank (2009), the younger incarnation of Magneto in the X-Men movies actually hails from Heidelberg in the former West Germany.
8 – Joaquin Phoenix – while most of his siblings were born in the US, including his brother River, the star of Walk the Line (2005) and Her (2013) was born in a country where his parents were serving as Children of God missionaries at the time. The country? None other than Puerto Rico.
9 – Amy Adams – as quintessentially American in appearance as Emma Watson is quintessentially British in appearance, the actress who was billed as Gorgeous Woman in Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006), and who is now Clark Kent/Superman’s go-to gal, was actually born in Vicenza, Italy.
10 – Kim Cattrall – the star of Sex and the City and, going further back, Big Trouble in Little China (1986), looks American, sounds American, and appears steeped in all things American, but again, appearances are deceiving as the truth is she was born in Liverpool, England.
Action, Barbara Nedeljakova, Ben Loyd-Holmes, Betrayal, Bruce Willis, Camping, Charlie Chan, CIA, Condor, Cynthia Rothrock, D.B. Sweeney, Drugs smuggling, Espionage, Extraction, FBI, Feds, Florida, Gina Carano, Horror, Jorge Montesi, Kellan Lutz, Mantan Moreland, Murder, Outside the Law, Patriarch Key, Phil Rosen, Reviews, Rupert Bryan, Sidney Toler, Steven C. Miller, The Hike, Thriller, Zara Phythian
The Hike (2011) / D: Rupert Bryan / 83m
Cast: Barbara Nedeljakova, Zara Phythian, Ben Loyd-Holmes, Lisa-Marie Long, Jemma Bolt, Stephanie Siadatan, Daniel Caren, Dominic Le Moignan, Shauna Macdonald, Tamer Hassan
Rating: 2/10 – five female friends decide to take a trip into the woods only to find themselves at the mercy of three psychos; an unforgivably awful UK torture porn movie, The Hike doesn’t have the strength of its own convictions and features some truly abysmal “acting”.
Extraction (2015) / D: Steven C. Miller / 83m
Cast: Kellan Lutz, Bruce Willis, Gina Carano, D.B. Sweeney, Joshua Mikel, Steve Coulter, Dan Bilzerian, Lydia Hull
Rating: 3/10 – when former CIA operative Leonard Turner (Willis) is abducted by terrorists, it’s down to his son (Lutz) to rescue him; Willis’s career continues in its downward spiral, but now he’s starting to take his co-stars with him, in an action movie that occasionally glances at credibility but then looks away in shame.
Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) / D: Phil Rosen / 65m
aka Charlie Chan and the Secret Service
Cast: Sidney Toler, Mantan Moreland, Arthur Loft, Gwen Kenyon, Sarah Edwards, George J. Lewis, Marianne Quon, Benson Fong, Muni Seroff, Barry Bernard, Gene Roth, Eddy Chandler, Lelah Tyler
Rating: 6/10 – Charlie Chan investigates when an inventor is found dead and the plans of the top secret weapon he was working on go missing; the first Charlie Chan movie to be made by Monogram, this is still an efficient murder mystery with a few tricks up its sleeve.
Outside the Law (2002) / D: Jorge Montesi / 90m
Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Seamus Devers, Jessica Stier, Jeff Wincott, Stephen Macht, Dan Lauria, Brad Greenquist, Don Harvey, Petra Wright, James Lew
Rating: 3/10 – betrayed secret agent Julie Cosgrove (Rothrock) takes time out from being on the run to bust up a drug smuggling ring operating out of a sleepy Florida town; late vintage Rothrock sees the action star still uncomfortable when called upon to smile, but there’s little she can do to improve this plodding (and naturally implausible) thriller.
D: Brian A. Miller / 93m
Cast: Jason Patric, Bruce Willis, Jessica Lowndes, John Cusack, Gia Mantegna, Jeong Ji-Hoon, Johnathon Schaech, Don Harvey, Tyler J. Olson, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Paul (Patric), a mechanic working in a small town in Mississippi, has an only daughter, Beth (Mantegna), away at college. She’s due home for a weekend visit but she fails to show up. Worried that something has happened to her, Paul travels to the college and checks her room, where he finds a picture of Beth and another girl outside a bar. He goes to the bar and in time the girl turns up. Her name is Angela (Lowndes), and while she can’t tell Paul where Beth is, she does know that she was seeing a dealer called Eddie (Olson). She helps him track Eddie down to New Orleans, and in the process, comes to learn that Paul isn’t just a mechanic, but that he has fighting skills she’s never seen before.
When he finds Eddie, Paul discovers that Beth has left him to go live with a more dangerous drug dealer known as the Pharmacy (Jackson). Paul pledges to rescue her and tries to persuade Angela to go back home, but she refuses. Meanwhile, Paul’s arrival in New Orleans is reported to ruthless crime boss Omar (Willis). Twenty years before, Paul was responsible for the deaths of Omar’s wife and daughter. Now, Omar sees his chance for revenge. Paul seeks help from old friend, Sam (Cusack) while he goes to rescue Beth. He discovers that the Pharmacy has been told by Omar to keep Paul there, but he takes Beth and escapes during the subsequent gunfight. Back at Sam’s, and as they’re preparing to leave, Omar’s second-in-command, Mark (Ji-Hoon), ambushes them and manages to get away with Beth. Paul follows him to Omar’s, and a final confrontation between the two.
At ninety-three minutes, one thing that The Prince does have in its favour is a fairly short running time. Otherwise, this is yet another heavily padded, strictly by-the-books crime thriller with an invincible hero, a bad-ass villain, and a damsel in distress. With such a predictable nature, the movie struggles from the outset to provide its audience with anything new or different, even down to the scene where Omar has an employee killed for being out of line, just so we know how bad-ass he is (the fact the employee is standing next to a pool and looks incredibly nervous is also a bit of a giveaway as to what’s going to happen).
As the titular Prince, Paul is a methodical, no-nonsense, quietly threatening ex-hitman who hasn’t lost his touch, but who is also hard to like and thanks to Patric’s portrayal and the script’s lack of humour, comes off as colourless and remote. When he rescues Beth from the Pharmacy there’s so little emotion he might as well have been retrieving a can of peas he’d left behind at the grocery store. Paul is a character who seems estranged from everyone except Beth, and even then he seems to be trying a little too hard, as if he can’t quite work out if he’s doing things in the right way or not. It makes his interaction with Angela unnecessarily stilted and repetitious, and their scenes together suffer accordingly.
Paul’s determination to get Beth back is laudable, but with such a lack of emotion on his part, his efforts don’t have the resonance that even something as contrived as Taken (2008) and its two sequels have (yes, Taken 3 will be with us in 2015). What emoting there is in the movie is left to Angela – who keeps saying how shocked she is by each turn of event or revelation – and Omar, whose need for revenge is almost pathological (though as usual, he holds off on killing Beth long enough for Paul to turn the tables on him). Lowndes is okay, but Angela is a character that never rings true, allowing herself to go with a man she doesn’t know to New Orleans for $500, and who stays around when the bullets start flying and the bodies start piling up. Willis plays Omar as controlled at first but soon ramps up the ham, and by the movie’s end he’s dispensed entirely with characterisation and gone completely for caricature.
With minor support from Mantegna (sidelined for most of the movie), and Cusack (winning this year’s Nicolas Cage Award for Worst Hairstyle), The Prince ticks all the boxes when it comes to low-budget movie-making, with its dull, uninspired script courtesy of Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore; poorly edited and choreographed action sequences (the showdown between Paul and Mark is the worst example); trite, repetitive dialogue; clumsy framing and photography; lacklustre direction; and the kind of approach that almost screams “Doing it purely for the money!” Several moments are of the wince-inducing variety (e.g. Jackson’s attempts at acting), and despite all the gunplay and dead bodies, not one police officer makes an appearance at any point in the proceedings, which only serves to highlight the improbability of everything that happens.
Rating: 3/10 – a nail in the coffin of several careers (though probably not the last one), The Prince is a ham-fisted attempt at an urban western but without any of that genre’s appeal or distinctive flavour; entirely derivative and short on imagination, this is one crime thriller that can safely be avoided.
D: Tony Scott / 105m
Cast: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, Taylor Negron, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry, Bruce McGill, Badja Djola, Kim Coates, Chelcie Ross, Joe Santos, Clarence Felder
Joe Hallenbeck (Willis) is an ex-presidential bodyguard turned private detective who looks like a bum and is fast becoming estranged from his wife, Sarah (Field) and daughter Darian (Harris). Taking a job protecting a stripper – sorry, exotic dancer – named Cory (Berry), Joe falls foul of her boyfriend, disgraced L.A. Stallions quarterback Jimmy Dix (Wayans). When Cory is killed, Joe and Jimmy (reluctantly) team up to find out why she was killed, and who was behind it. The trail leads to the owner of the L.A. Stallions, Sheldon Marcone (Willingham), and an audio tape that contains a recording of Marcone attempting to bribe an influential senator called Baynard (Ross) into approving a bill that would make sports gambling legal. When the audio tape is accidentally ruined, Joe and Jimmy must find another way of bringing Marcone to justice.
However, it’s not as easy as they would like. Marcone’s goons, led by urbane psycho Milo (Negron), are continually trying to either frame Joe or dispose of Jimmy, and their problems get worse when Darian ends up in Marcone’s clutches. With Senator Baynard agreeing to a $6,000,000 bribe, Marcone arranges for the briefcase with the money in it to be swapped for one that has ten pounds of C4 instead. With an important L.A. Stallions match coming up, and the Senator in attendance, Joe and Jimmy have to stop the Senator from being blown up, and amass enough evidence to stop the police from arresting them instead of Marcone.
Famously known for the price paid for writer Shane Black’s script – a then whopping $1.75 million – The Last Boy Scout is an action movie that combines often sadistic violence with a large amount of drily profane humour, and never once lets the viewer forget how clever it is. Its plot is paper thin (and a little beside the point), and its principal villain borders on being constructed from cardboard, but it’s the attitude that counts: irreverent, flippant, and yet with a well-developed sense of decency at its core that offsets all the vulgarity and casual mayhem. (It’s worth noting at this point that Black’s script was heavily reworked by Willis and producer Joel Silver during production; that the movie is as good as it is, is nothing short of a miracle.)
Viewed now, twenty-three years on, it’s aged remarkably well, with only the lack of mobile phones and the Internet highlighting its age (that and the amount of hair on Willis’s head). The characters may be familiar, but they’re fleshed out by a cast that clearly relishes the whip-smart dialogue. Willis’s world-weary turn as Joe Hallenbeck (a nice twist on the phrase “hell and back”) is a lesson in how to be laconic and expansive at the same time, and he invests Joe with a no-nonsense attitude that riffs on every other loner hero we’ve ever seen while still making him seem fresh. Wayans has the more earnest role, but acquits himself well, his comic leanings put aside in order to provide the make the student/teacher dynamic between Jimmy and Joe that much more credible (though he has his own fair share of one-liners). Willingham is appropriately arrogant and slimy as the villainous Marcone, while Negron oozes an oily menace as Milo, his outwardly refined behaviour masking the soul of a cold-blooded killer. As Sarah, Field is unsurprisingly sidelined for most of the movie, which leaves Harris unexpectedly brought to the fore in the movie’s final third; she’s more than capable and takes on Darian’s troubled child persona and makes her instantly likeable (if there’s ever likely to be a sequel, it should see Harris reprise her role as an adult and inheriting Joe’s private detective business; it could be called The Last Girl Guide?).
The action scenes are well-staged and include enough twists and embellishments to make them stand out from the crowd, and there’s some sterling stunt work as well. There’s plenty of casual violence (the scene where Joe warns Chet (Coates), “Touch me again and I’ll kill you” is still a highlight), and it’s all expertly orchestrated by Scott. The director adds his preference for heavily filtered skylines to the mix, but keeps the attention-sapping, frenzied editing style of his later movies in check, and marshals what could be very disparate elements into a more than satisfying whole (quite an achievement given the production’s notoriously difficult shoot).
Rating: 8/10 – a wonderful mix of caustic humour and nonchalant bloodshed, The Last Boy Scout turns genre expectations on their head throughout and is all the more entertaining because of it; Willis is on top form and and the movie sums everything up perfectly when Joe says: “This is the 90’s. You can’t just walk up and slap a guy, you have to say something cool first”.
Die Hard (1988)
D: John McTiernan / 131m
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, William Atherton, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta
If, like me, you started watching action movies during the Seventies, then you had a plethora of riches. There was Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series, the stunt-heavy movies of Burt Reynolds, Charles Bronson’s vigilante excursions, and occasional gems such as Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) and Vanishing Point (1971). These movies were often gritty and darkly humorous. The violence in them was often brutal. They did their best to reflect the times in which they were made, and often there were political overtones that couldn’t be ignored or missed.
This attitude carried on into the Eighties but the introduction of broad humour in movies such as Commando (1985), and the sense of a genre trading on old glories became more prevalent. For every Southern Comfort (1981) and First Blood (1982) that kept the flame alive, there was a Stroker Ace (1983) or a Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985). Action movies were becoming stale and unimaginative. It seemed the doldrums had set in, and we would have to wait some time for the genre to see a resurgence, and to reinvent itself.
Instead of a long wait into the Nineties, we only had to wait until 1988, and the introduction of a character created by author Roderick Thorp, New York cop John McClane. Die Hard came along unheralded and with a star in Bruce Willis who had no proven track record as an action hero. In many ways it was a risky deal for 20th Century Fox, but it paid off handsomely (even with parts of the script not having been finalised by the time filming began).
For my part, I wasn’t that interested in seeing it. I knew Willis from TV’s Moonlighting, but had the same feeling about him as everyone else, and the concept didn’t seem to lend itself to an exciting, two-hour thrill ride. And so I didn’t see it straight away, even when I saw the positive reviews it garnered, and even when friends who’d seen it did nothing but rave about it. It wasn’t until three weeks had passed that I finally went to see it, expecting to be disappointed, and not looking forward to it at all.
Well, we’re all allowed to get it wrong sometimes, aren’t we?
In fact, I was riveted. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so impressed by an action movie, by the twists and turns, by the cat and mouse games played out between McClane and Hans Gruber (Rickman), by the skill of John McTiernan’s direction, and the sheer exuberance of the action sequences. Here was a movie that didn’t short change the audience in terms of intelligence, thrills and well-judged humour. Die Hard was exciting. I remember still that classic moment where McClane drops the C4 explosive down the lift shaft and blows up one of the lower floors (and a couple of Gruber’s henchmen): not only was it an incredible moment, but it was topped by smarmy reporter Richard Thornberg’s quip to his cameraman, “Tell me you got that”. I wanted to see that scene again so badly, I’d already decided I was going to stay on and see the movie again.
Over the next two weeks, I saw Die Hard a further three times, and enjoyed it more and more. I became a majorly annoying convert, extolling the film’s virtues to anyone who’d listen (and a few who wouldn’t). Aside from the appallingly ill-judged Deputy Chief of Police Dwayne T. Robinson (Gleason), the movie didn’t put a foot wrong. The relationships were well handled, the characters believable, and the cast were all on top form (even the unfortunate Gleason). I loved the fact that John McClane was an everyman character, and that Willis imbued him with a vulnerability that the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris would have found beyond their acting abilities. His self-doubt was a nice change of pace as well. And, of course, he had the perfect adversary in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, a villain so urbane and charming his very sneer could probably cut glass. (Rickman steals the movie, as he would three years later in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).
When I got my first surround sound system – and Die Hard on DVD – this was one of two movies I used to show how good the system was (the other was The Matrix). Over the years I’ve watched it countless times, and it’s still as fresh as ever. It’s also one of the most influential action movies of all time: even now, the Die Hard template is still being used – Olympus Has Fallen, anyone? And with one of the best catchphrases ever: “Yippie ki-ay, motherfucker”, it’s a movie that will keep on having a great reputation and winning over audiences with each new generation.
Rating: 9/10 – a tense, exciting, action movie that has a down-to-earth appeal amongst the gunfire and explosions; Willis and Rickman elevate the material and make it sing, just like Dean Martin.
D: Dean Parisot / 116m
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Byung-hun Lee, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Brian Cox, Garrick Hagon, Tim Pigott-Smith
A surprise hit in 2010, Red was fun to watch because it had an ageing cast (Parker excepted) indulging in the kind of action movie heroics that (Willis excepted) you wouldn’t normally find them involved in. Everyone looked like they were having a great time, so it was almost a certainty there would be a sequel. And here it is.
Following on from the first movie, Frank Moses (Willis) is still having trouble settling down with Sarah (Parker). When Marvin (Malkovich) warns that someone is coming for both of them, he then fakes his own death. At the funeral, Frank is taken in for questioning by federal agents. Frank and Marvin are accused of having worked on Project Nightshade, an operation carried out over thirty years before whose purpose was to plant a nuclear bomb in Moscow. After Frank survives an attempt to kill him by sinister US agent Jack Horton (McDonough), the Americans hire Han (Lee) to complete the task, while the British give the job to old friend and ally Victoria (Mirren). Both countries have their reasons for putting Frank and Marvin on their most wanted lists, and as the movie progresses those reasons become clearer and clearer, and have a lot to do with missing-presumed-dead scientist Edward Bailey (Hopkins). In order to clear themselves, Frank, Marvin and Sarah travel from the US to Paris to Moscow and then to London in their efforts to stop the bomb from being set off. Along the way they are variously helped and/or hindered by terrorist The Frog (Thewlis), Russian official Ivan (Cox), and an ex-flame of Frank’s, Katja (Zeta-Jones).
The first movie, as mentioned above, was fun to watch, but Red 2 is a chore. From the opening sequence to the final scene, the movie lumbers from set up to set up, barely pausing to catch its own breath. If it did, if it gave itself a chance to breathe, then there’s more chance the audience would realise how poor a sequel it is, so the movie doesn’t let up. Willis, Malkovich and Hopkins overact as if their careers depend on it, while Parker stretches kooky to flat-out annoying. Lee is underused, McDonough makes the most of his early scenes, while Zeta-Jones succeeds in putting the fatal in femme fatale. Only Helen Mirren emerges unscathed from a script – by Jon and Erich Hoeber – that dispenses with any attempt at characterisation, pays lip service to the idea of a coherent plot, and includes some of the worst dialogue this side of an Adam Sandler movie (Jack & Jill anyone?).
The action sequences are perfunctory and often poorly edited, and the humour that punctuates the movie seems forced rather than organic. It’s the same old schtick from the first movie but less interesting and on a bigger budget. Parisot directs as if he’s not responsible for anything that appears on screen, and nothing can detract from the sense of hopelessness that builds toward the incredibly naff – and predictable – showdown between Willis and the movie’s main villain (their identity in itself completely predictable). It’s somehow more disappointing when a big budget movie with a talented cast tanks so badly – you’d think someone might look at the script and say, “hang on, can’t we do something about this?”. If this is a cast and crew that are doing their best, perhaps they just shouldn’t bother.
Rating: 4/10 – an unremittingly bad sequel to a moderately good first movie, Red 2 stutters and stumbles its way through a disaster of a script; saved from a lower rating by some good location work, and the pleasure of seeing Helen Mirren showing everyone else how it should be done.