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If armed criminals invade your home and take you hostage, don’t despair. Instead, make the most of it. Use the opportunity to work out your domestic and family issues. That, at least, seems to be the main takeaway from Bruce Willis’ latest B-movie vehicle, in which he takes second billing to Chad Michael Murray of One Tree Hill fame. Using the Desperate Hours template that has fueled countless thrillers since, Survive the Night is a particularly forgettable example of a tired subgenre that, like so many of Willis’ recent efforts, squanders his still estimable movie-star charisma.
The grizzled actor, here making no effort to hide his years, plays Frank, a retired sheriff who has a contentious relationship with his doctor son Rich (Murray), whose career is in tatters thanks to a malpractice suit after the death of a patient. Despite their personal difficulties, the two men live together in Frank’s home, along with Rich’s mother (Jessica Abrams), his wife (Lydia Hull) and their teenage daughter (Riley Wolfe Rach).
Release date: May 22, 2020
As the story begins, we’re introduced to criminal siblings Mathias (Tyler Jon Olson) and Jamie (Shea Buckner), who, like so many nefarious duos, have distinctly different personalities. Mathias is the brains of the two, not wanting to hurt people if he can help it, while the hot-headed Jamie is a loose cannon, all too willing to resort to violence. His careless brutality becomes a major problem when the two rob a convenience store, with Jamie gunning down a customer and Mathias getting shot and seriously wounded by the armed clerk.
Unwilling to risk Mathias’ being treated in a hospital, the criminals instead follow Rich home from work. Breaking into the home, they accidentally kill Rich’s mother and then threaten to murder the rest of his family unless he operates on Mathias’ leg.
Cue the predictable plot mechanics, as Rich desperately attempts to stall for time — he’s convinced that he’ll botch the job if he attempts the surgery — and prevent the men from harming his family. Eventually, of course, Frank springs into action, or, considering his overall rustiness, at least limps into it.
Even considering the time-tested reliability of the scenario, director Matt Eskandari and screenwriter Doug Wolfe somehow manage to render it utterly devoid of suspense. There’s plenty of gory violence and action, including a car chase (one of the more contrived elements), but the pacing is so sluggish and the execution so humdrum that you begin to think that it’s not so much a question of surviving the night but staying awake through it.
Even worse are the so-called dramatic moments, including an early scene in which Frank agonizes to his wife about his failings as a father, which have the feel of rewrites demanded by Willis to beef up his character. Later on, even as they’re fighting for their lives, father and son take the time to have a lengthy chat in which they attempt to work out their issues.
This being a Willis vehicle, naturally he gets to deliver a pithy one-liner or two. Unfortunately, “I’m gonna get his attention” doesn’t quite live up to the gold standard set by “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” which only serves to accentuate the diminishing quality of his action films over the years.
At least Willis earns his paycheck, however; unlike the glorified cameos that account for so many of his recent film performances, here he actually has a solid amount of screen time. Unfortunately, there’s not much he can do with it, and the rest of the ensemble, including leading man Murray, don’t fare much better. You almost wish there had been a bloopers reel during the end credits so you could be assured that the performers at least had a good time.
Production companies: Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, SSS Entertainment, SSS Capital
Distributor: Lionsgate (Available on VOD)
Cast: Chad Michael Murray, Bruce Willis, Shea Buckner, Tyler Jon Olson, Lydia Hull, Riley Wolfe Rach, Jessica Abrams, Sara Lynn Holbrook, Jef Holbrook
Director: Matt Eskandari
Screenwriter: Doug Wolfe
Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Shaun Sanghani, Mark Stewart
Executive producers: Tim Sullivan, Alex Eckert, Ceasar Richbow, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Henry Winterstern, Richard L. Baxter, Peter F. Bowden, Adam Engelhard, Ted Fox, Lee Broda, Jonathan Baker
Director of photography: Bryan Koss
Production designer: Susannah Lowber
Editor: R. J. Cooper
Composer: Nima Fakhrara
Costume designer: Adrene Ashford
Casting: Brandon Henry Rodriguez
Rated R, 89 minutes
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