We can only hope that the upcoming Death Wish remake will rescue Bruce Willis from the level of B-movie hackdom that’s become his stock-in-trade. The latest example features the iconic star of Die Hard and its numerous sequels in a rote thriller indistinguishable from the countless others he’s cranked out in recent years. Receiving a limited theatrical release to elevate its standing on VOD listings, Acts of Violence evaporates from your mind while you’re watching it.
Willis isn’t actually the star of the film scripted by Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto and directed by Brett Donowho. Rather, it’s his frequent co-star Cole Hauser (Hart’s War, A Good Day to Die Hard), who plays Declan MacGregor, a war veteran coping with post-traumatic stress. Declan seems to be faring much worse emotionally than his younger brothers Brendan (Shawn Ashmore), a fellow vet now happily married to Jessa (Tiffany Brouwer), and Roman (Ashton Holmes), engaged to the beautiful Mia (Melissa Bolona).
The MacGregor clan finds its world turned upside-down when Mia, partying at a nightclub with her bridesmaids, is kidnapped by the henchmen of arch criminal and human trafficker Max Livingston (Mike Epps). The two younger brothers seem willing to let the police handle the matter, with Brendan plaintively asking, “What are we gonna do?”
“We go to war,” Declan responds, in an example of the film’s hackneyed dialogue that seems mostly designed for its promotional trailer.
Watching approvingly from the sidelines is Det. Avery (Willis), a cop so macho he doesn’t even bother to protect his ears while shooting a gun at the firing range. Since he and his partner (Sophia Bush) are hamstrung in their pursuit of the bad guys by their superiors in the manner familiar from so many generic cop thrillers, Avery proves all too willing to let the brothers pursue their own brand of vigilante justice which claims more than a few victims, some of them innocent, along the way.
Its screenplay feeling not so much written as mapped out on an Etch-a-Sketch, Acts of Violence displays both unearned self-importance — demonstrated by an early scene in which Declan has an angry encounter with a VA therapist — and a straining for action-movie cred, including the apparent mandate to include at least one scene set in a strip club. Unfortunately, such lines as “Sayonara,” uttered by Willis’ cop character as he lets a suspect fall to his death from a rooftop, don’t exactly have the memorable panache as “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!”
Director Donowho (Salvation) stages the violent mayhem with reasonable proficiency, but it’s all so narratively unconvincing that it inspires yawns. It’s hard not to notice, however, that Ashmore’s character displays a particularly unlucky tendency to get shot.
Willis walks through the proceedings with his by-now usual bored expression. Hauser, Ashmore and Holmes at least lend some conviction to their performances and have the added advantage of actually looking credible as siblings. The film also benefits from its location shooting in Cleveland, Ohio, which provides the opportunity for the action to be set in gritty settings that haven’t been overexposed.
Production companies: Emmett Furla Oasis Films, Colecar Productions, River Bay Films
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Cast: Cole Hauser, Bruce Willis, Shawn Ashmore, Ashton Holmes, Melissa Bolona, Patrick St. Esprit, Sophia Bush, Mike Epps
Director: Brett Donowho
Screenwriter: Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto
Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Anthony Callie, Mark Stewart
Executive producers: Ted Fox, Vance Own, Brandon K. Hogan, Marc Goldberg, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb, Henry Winterstern, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Martin Wiley
Director of photography: Edd Lukas
Production designer: Kristen Adams
Editors: Frederick Wardell, Ryan Eaton
Costume designer: Stephanie Powers
Composer: James T. Sale
Casting: Lillian Pyles
Rated R, 86 minutes