Friday, April 22, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: PRECIOUS CARGO (2016)

(US/UK - 2016)

Directed by Max Adams. Written by Max Adams and Paul Seetachit. Cast: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Bruce Willis, Claire Forlani, Daniel Bernhardt, Jenna Kelly, Nick Loeb, Lydia Hull, John Brotherton, Tyler John Olson, Sammi Barber, Christopher Rob Bowen. (R, 89 mins)

The latest in the landmark "Bruce Willis phones in his performance from his hotel room" series, PRECIOUS CARGO is marginally better than the likes of FIRE WITH FIRE, THE PRINCE, VICE, and EXTRACTION, but that's not saying much. Willis does even less than usual here, playing Gulfport crime boss Eddie Filosa, who's introduced in a hotel room berating and slapping a tailor and complaining that his tie looks "dipped in shit." He's doing this before sending his chief flunky Simon (Daniel Bernhardt) after disobedient cohort Karen (Claire Forlani), who tried to shaft him out of his 60% cut on her last job, so now he wants it all. Karen ends up involving her career-criminal ex Jack, referred to by Eddie as "the Michelangelo of thieves" and played with cocky wiseassery by SAVED BY THE BELL's Mark-Paul Gosselaar as if he's attempting to carve a niche as "the Ryan Reynolds of VOD," in a plot to rip off Eddie's diamond shipment. She's also got another surprise for him: she's pregnant with his child, which puts a damper on his blossoming relationship with nice veterinarian Jenna (Lydia Hull), who has no idea that he and his abrasive, little sis-like sidekick Logan (a legitimately enjoyable performance by the promising Jenna Kelly, who deserves her own movie) deal guns and kill people for a living. Double and triple crosses ensue, with Jack and Karen forming an uneasy alliance and putting together a crack team of hired criminals to take Eddie down in a way that is in no way reminiscent of a certain fast and/or furious franchise, with Simon in hot pursuit and Eddie right where you expect a modern-day Willis character to be: on his phone, either yelling "Find him!" or smirking as he sleepily recites tepid bon mots being fed to him just off-camera.

When Eddie derisively calls Jack "Cowboy," it's probably meant to be a winking homage to DIE HARD, but all it does is remind you of how great Willis once was and how little he cares now. If you stop-watched Willis' screen time in PRECIOUS CARGO, you probably wouldn't even get to five minutes. He has one brief scene away from Eddie's hotel room and the outside patio, and that's for the requisite visit to an abandoned shipyard for an incoherently-edited shootout. His most lifelike moment comes when he does an uncomfortably overlong half-assed chuckle that seems like less a character action and more like Willis' response to director/co-writer Max Adams requesting "Bruce, let's run through that last part again." Demonstrating a work ethic that makes you appreciate the comparatively tireless dedication of Steven Seagal, it's almost as if Willis' career has become a tribute to Henry Fonda's one morning of work on 1977's TENTACLES, where the legendary actor was cast as the scowling head of an oil company and was given vague lines like "Just fix it!" and "Why wasn't I notified of this?"--lines that could be about anything and it quickly becomes apparent that Fonda very likely has no idea that he's in a movie about a giant mutant octopus. Fonda didn't even leave his house to shoot his three or four brief scenes--the crew came to him. Willis is at least willing to go to expensive hotels to work on these low-budget movies for a couple of days, but we're maybe two or three of these things away from him texting in his performances while taking a dump.

There are a few things that work in PRECIOUS CARGO that make it a bit more endurable than most of its ilk: some of the stunt work is well-done, and there's a reasonably decent over-the-top jet skis-vs-speedboat chase that took some planning and looks like something out of a Bond movie. It also really relishes and sinks its teeth into its R rating. The blood splatters and Adams (who also co-wrote EXTRACTION) supplies Bernhardt and Kelly with some occasionally funny and at times unabashedly offensive one-liners (Bernhardt's Simon to a trio of dim, surgically-enhanced bimbos at Eddie's pool: "Hey! You. Dickbreath. Where's Eddie?"), but Gosselaar and Forlani have zero chemistry as the bickering ex-lovers forced to work together on One Last Job. The less said about the rest of Jack's crew, the better: Tyler Jon Olson fails to make "You owe me a vacation!" a new catchphrase despite tireless efforts to do so, and Sammi Barber, as the idiot wife of one of the guys, uses a forced and indescribably awful Southern-twanged vocal fry that brings every scene she's in to a screeching halt. Cashing another easy paycheck from his enablers at Grindstone Entertainment and Emmett/Furla Films, Willis coasts through his few scattered scenes with the expected disinterest and visible contempt (he's also the only main cast member absent during the closing credits blooper reel, a good indication that people weren't having as fun a time with him as they were with everyone else). This is an actor who looks like he hates what he does for a living. Over the last 30 years, Willis has done great work in some great movies. By most standards, he's had a stellar career and likely gets a lifetime pass just on the basis of DIE HARD. Why he takes on these frivolous cameos in B and C-list Redbox-destined clunkers when he still has star power is a mystery. Actors fall into periodic slumps, but Willis seems to have intentionally created this one. Why? Not since Klaus Kinski followed FITZCARRALDO with an endless string of C-list genre fare has a gifted actor been so openly brazen about not giving a shit. Willis' chief objective these days is "What's the most amount of money I can make for the least amount of work?" You've still got some good stuff in you, Bruno. Maybe start following your own advice.

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