'First Kill': Film Review

As generic as its title.

Hayden Christensen and Bruce Willis star in Steven C. Miller's thriller about a father and young son who encounter bank robbers while on a hunting trip.

First Kill marks the third collaboration between director Steven C. Miller and Bruce Willis, but their efforts are not likely to enter the pantheon of such previous cinematic teams as Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart or John Ford and John Wayne. Produced by the aptly named Grindstone Entertainment, the film, much like its Miller/Willis predecessors Extraction and Marauders, is strictly grindhouse level, if grindhouses still existed. Their modern-day equivalent, VOD, will be the natural home for this mediocre thriller receiving a limited theatrical release.

As with most of his recent vehicles, Willis here plays a supporting part. Hayden Christensen plays the central role of Will, a hotshot investment banker whose importance is signaled in an early scene when he exasperatedly asks his assistant, “Did the meeting with the Saudis get moved to today?”

Not surprisingly, Will’s home life has suffered due to his workaholic ways. When he discovers that his 11-year-old son Danny (Ty Shelton) has been bullied at school, he decides to take his family to the small town where he grew up so that he can teach his boy how to hunt in an effort to give him confidence.

Using the same rifle that his grandfather gave him, Will takes Danny on a deer hunting expedition. But father and son get more than they bargained for when they encounter a pair of criminals and Will winds up having to shoot one of them in self-defense. It turns out that the duo was involved a recent bank robbery, and the surviving one, Levi (Gethin Anthony), winds up kidnapping Danny to force Will to help him find the key to a bank vault that contains $2 million in loot.

To complicate the situation even further, the local police chief (Willis), who’s known Will since he was a boy, becomes suspicious of Will’s actions after his boy is taken. The two men are soon involved in a twisty cat-and-mouse game even while Danny bonds with his captor over their shared love of video games. Levi, it’s soon revealed, isn’t really a bad guy, just a desperate one, trying to get the money to pay for an operation to remove his mother-in-law’s 80-pound tumor. (Yes, the screenplay by Nick Gordon gets that baroque).

More reminiscent of a broadcast network crime drama episode than a feature film, the generically titled First Kill features one decent chase scene involving a pick-up truck and ATV barreling through the woods and a suspenseful gun stand-off near its conclusion. Otherwise it’s all pretty tedious, with Miller failing to infuse the proceedings with the stylistic flair necessary to compensate for the cliché-ridden plotline, whose twists can be seen a mile away.

Christensen, who’s been unable to capitalize on the buzz over his acclaimed performance in Shattered Glass, at least goes through his paces with professionalism. The same can’t be said of Willis, who turns in yet another phone-it-in performance that makes one yearn for the actor to hark back to the sort of superb character work he did in such films as In Country and Nobody’s Fool. The best performance on display here comes from Anthony, a British actor who displays both a credible Southern accent and an entertaining relish for his intriguing character. It’s the one genuine pleasure in this otherwise forgettable genre exercise.

Production: Grindstone Entertainment Group, Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, Arboretum Producitons, River Bay Films, The Fyzz Facility Limited, Brookstreet Pictures
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Bruce Willis, Gethin Anthony, Megan Leonard, Tyler Jon Olson, Shea Buckner
Director: Steven C. Miller
Screenwriter: Nick Gordon
Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Mark Stewart
Executive producers: Henry Winterstern, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Marc Goldberg, Ted Fox, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Trevor Matthews, Steven Saxton, Vance Owen, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb
Director of photography: Brandon Cox
Production designer: Niko Vilaivongs
Editor: Thomas Calderon
Costume designer: Bonnie Stauch
Composers: Ryan Franks, Scott Nickoley

Rated R, 97 minutes