Friday, December 18, 2015

In Theaters/On VOD: EXTRACTION (2015)

(US/UK - 2015)

Directed by Steven C. Miller. Written by Ulair Aleem and Max Adams. Cast: Kellan Lutz, Bruce Willis, Gina Carano, D.B. Sweeney, Dan Bilzerian, Joshua Mikel, Steve Coulter, Olga Valentina, Lydia Hull, Tyler J. Olsen, Summer Altice, Rob Steinberg, Simon Rhee, Hwan Tran. (R, 82 mins)

It's not unusual for an A-list actor to hit a rough patch and go slumming in second-tier work for a brief or extended period of time (Nicolas Cage and John Cusack immediately come to mind).  It happens to almost any big star whose career has any kind of multi-decade longevity. However, it is unusual for an A-lister to tackle these kinds of B-movie projects by choice, in the midst of an otherwise solid period. Four years ago, on the heels of his 2010 hit RED, Bruce Willis turned up in a couple of low-grade, straight-to-DVD 50 Cent productions (SET-UP and CATCH .44) and it seemed like an odd move at the time, almost like he was doing a favor for someone. Then, when he wasn't in something acclaimed like Wes Anderson's MOONRISE KINGDOM and Rian Johnson's LOOPER or in the big-budget A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, and RED 2, he was popping up in another 50 Cent production, FIRE WITH FIRE. In the last couple of years, Willis has appeared in such forgettable Redbox-ready trifles as THE PRINCE and the WESTWORLD ripoff VICE, and his roles in both of them (as well as FIRE WITH FIRE), mainly confine him to a desk where he barks orders at underlings in person or on the phone, in shots that require minimal set-up and probably keep him on the set for two days tops. In VICE, Willis plays the CEO of an adult amusement park where sex robots revolt by going offline and becoming sentient. Thomas Jane is the star, but there's periodic cutaways to Willis, looking like he's battling a case of indigestion as he observes a row of monitors in a control room and mutters things like "Whaddaya got?" and "Bring up the temperature in Sector Five," until the androids rebel and he gets to yell "Initiate the kill switch!" Willis' descent into VOD/DTV irrelevance is odd in that it seems to be by choice. He was still getting major, starring Hollywood gigs when he started dabbling in this shady netherworld and now, aside from his iffy turn in the current stage production of MISERY, it's these slapdash paycheck jobs that seem to constitute the overwhelming majority of his cinematic work these days.

Few actors do a worse job of masking their complete indifference to a project than Willis, and as set by the standards of FIRE WITH FIRE, THE PRINCE, and VICE, he's sleepwalking through EXTRACTION, a film that shares a screenwriter and at least five supporting actors with the recent VOD release HEIST, which featured Robert De Niro, himself no stranger to inexplicably slumming in B-movies between high-profile studio titles. Rather than sitting behind a desk, Willis spends most of his limited screen time in EXTRACTION zip-tied to a chair in a dimly-lit warehouse office. He plays Leonard Turner, a former CIA legend forced into retirement a decade earlier after a terrorist outfit he was pursuing attacked his home and murdered his wife. His teenage son Harry survived the tragedy, and in the present day, played by the almost-lifelike Kellan Lutz (the TWILIGHT series), is in the CIA training program in Prague, against his father's wishes. Disregarding the orders of his superiors and his mentor and dad's old partner Robertson (D.B. Sweeney), Harry takes matters into his own hands when Leonard is kidnapped in Newark by a group of domestic terrorists who have stolen "The Condor," described as "the ultimate hack" (not to be confused with 2015 Bruce Willis), a device that, once activated, can control any government's electronic communication--internet, e-mail, GPS, etc. It can only be deactivated by "The Patriarch Key," which must be uploaded directly into The Condor. Teaming with CIA agent and ex-girlfriend Victoria Fair (Gina Carano), Harry heads to Newark to rescue his estranged father, resulting in two fight scenes at bars, a few explosions, some attempts at witty repartee (the ass-kicking Carano doesn't seem like someone who would start a sentence with "You know, this totes reminds me of..."), and a shootout at an abandoned warehouse, just in case you were concerned that EXTRACTION would do something completely insane and even slightly stray from the path of utterly formulaic convention.

Blandly directed by Steven C. Miller, who's got the atrocious SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT remake SILENT NIGHT on his resume, EXTRACTION feels overlong and padded even at a brief 82 minutes--and that includes over a minute devoted to five or six production company logos at the start, a long opening credits sequence where 23 producers have to see their names listed, and a slow closing credit crawl that combine to make the actual movie itself a little under 75 minutes. It's the kind of movie where Jersey-based characters can't just say "Newark," but instead have to say "Newark, New Jersey" to give the target audience--pay-per-viewers at hotels in Asia and the United Arab Emirates--some sense of geography. It's the kind of movie where an establishing shot of the most instantly recognizable cemetery in America is accompanied by the caption "Arlington National Cemetery - Washington, D.C."

"Hey, pal...there should be
another zero on this!" 
EXTRACTION gets its biggest boost from an occasionally funny, Bob Balaban-like performance by Steve Coulter as the sarcastic, condescending CIA honcho watching the proceedings on a bank of monitors in the mandatory Jason Bourne Crisis Suite (when told about the specifics of The Condor, he calmly and matter-of-factly queries "Can someone who didn't spend their childhood jerking off to science magazines explain this to me?"). Still waiting for a worthy starring vehicle post-HAYWIRE, Carano isn't given much to work with, starting with Lutz, who's so charisma-impaired and so lacking in screen presence that he practically evaporates before your eyes. Lutz has got several failed actioners under his belt (JAVA HEAT, the unwatchable THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, and the disappointing THE EXPENDABLES 3) in numerous attempts to make him a thing after TWILIGHT, and it's not hard to fathom why Willis is so bored playing support to him, though a late-film plot twist does get Bruno out of his chair and a little more invested in the proceedings than in his other VOD credits. I still doubt Willis spent more than a few days working on EXTRACTION before ensuring the money was wired to his bank account and moving on to his next projects: an action thriller called MARAUDERS directed by--you guessed it--Steven C. Miller, and a heist thriller called PRECIOUS CARGO, directed by EXTRACTION co-writer Max Adams. Can someone sit Bruce Willis down and show him DIE HARD or maybe PULP FICTION? Hell, even COLOR OF NIGHT would be worth another look at this point. Does Willis have some personal financial issues that necessitate his taking on these mercenary assignments or is he still pissed that nobody went to see HUDSON HAWK and he's just now exacting his vengeance?

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