You’d think that by now Bruce Willis would be tired of saving the world. The veteran actor, who seems to have settled on making listless appearances in forgettable B-movie action movies as a retirement funding plan, co-stars in this would-be thriller, marking his third low-budget collaboration with director Matt Eskandari (the others being Survive the Night and Trauma Center) in two years. The production notes inform us that the unimaginatively titled Hard Kill was filmed in a mere ten days, making you wonder how they spent eight of them.
Willis plays Donovan Chalmers (at least his character’s name has some flair), a mysterious billionaire who seeks out ex-Special Forces operative turned mercenary Derek Miller (Jesse Metcalfe, Desperate Housewives) for protection while visiting an abandoned factory. Miller assembles his team, including Sasha (Natalie Eva Marie, of the WWE reality series Total Divas), Harrison (Jon Galanis) and Dash (Swen Temmel), assuring them of a generous payday for an assignment he promises will be “strictly VIP protection.”
Needless to say, that turns out not to be the case, as Miller and his group are soon ambushed by a well-armed gang led by an international terrorist dubbed “The Pardoner” (Sergio Rizzutto, letting his beard do the menacing for him). It turns out that the quixotically named criminal, with whom Miller has a past, has kidnapped Chalmers’ daughter Eva (Lala Kent). She’s apparently developed an artificial intelligence computer program that, depending how it’s used, could either make the world a dramatically better place or destroy it. The Pardoner naturally intends the latter, explaining that he’s fighting for “a new world order.” The invention, referred to as “Project 725,” might as well be dubbed “The MacGuffin.”
Cue the tiresome action movie gun battles and other violent mayhem, staged unimaginatively by director Eskandari despite how much practice he gets. It’s occasionally punctuated by such lame dialogue scenes as Chalmers and Eva engaging in a heartfelt father-daughter chat or The Pardoner taking the time to explain the reason for his unusual moniker. During the latter, Willis, as if standing in for the viewer, listens with a bored expression on his face, clearly wishing he was interacting with Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber instead. The Pardoner, by comparison, is such a one-note villain that his chief distinguishing characteristic is his manipulations of a Rubik’s Cube — although that’s somewhat more arresting than Willis’ character-defining wearing of a heavy woolen scarf. Clearly, screenwriters Joe Russo (not the one of Avengers fame) and Chris LaMont didn’t feel a need for any heavy lifting.
Although Metcalfe certainly boasts the appropriate physicality for his role, he’s unable to summon sufficient charisma to make his character remotely interesting. The supporting performances are equally lackluster, although former wrestling star Marie makes for a convincing female badass. Chalmers’ right-hand man is played by actor Texas Battle (The Bold and the Beautiful soap opera), who deserves stardom if only for his name that would look great on a theater marquee.
As recently as last year’s Motherless Brooklyn, Willis has proven that, when he feels like it, he’s capable of giving interesting performances. Although no one begrudges him a decent living, it’s frustrating that he seems to be settling for such low-rent VOD Steven Seagal/John Travolta-style vehicles at this point in his career.
Available On Demand and digital platforms
Production: Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, River Bay Films
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Bruce Willis, Natalie Eva Marie, Lala Kent, Texas Battle, Swen Timmel, Sergio Rizzuto, Tyler Jon Olson, Jon Galanis
Director: Matt Eskandari
Screenwriters: Joe Russo, Chris LaMont
Producers: Alexander Eckert, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Shaun Sanghani, Mark Stewart, Timothy C. Sullivan
Executive producers: Lee Broda, Ted Fox, Gus Furla, David Gendron, Richard Goldberg, Tyler Gould, Matthew Helderman, Peter Jarowey, Ali Jazayeri, Joe Listhaus, Habib Paracha, Ceasar Richbow, Luke Taylor
Director of photography: Bryan Koss
Editor: R. J. Cooper
Composer: Rhyan D’Errico
Costume designer: Zachary Sheets
Rated R, 95 min.