Saturday, January 13, 2018

In Theaters/On VOD: ACTS OF VIOLENCE (2018)

(US/UK - 2018)

Directed by Brett Donowho. Written by Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto. Cast: Cole Hauser, Bruce Willis, Shawn Ashmore, Ashton Holmes, Mike Epps, Sophia Bush, Melissa Bolona, Patrick St. Esprit, Sean Brosnan, Tiffany Brouwer, Jenna B. Kelly, Rotimi Akinosho, Matt Metzler, Christopher Rob Bowen. (R, 87 mins)

The latest installment in Lionsgate's landmark "Bruce Willis Phones In His Performance From His Hotel Room" series finds the actor celebrating the 30th anniversary of DIE HARD by spending 90% of his cumulative ten minutes of screen time seated at a desk thumbing through paperwork. As burned-out Cleveland detective Avery, Willis opens the film big, participating in a well-shot drug raid that has enough arresting camera work to show that the filmmakers watched that one episode from the first season of HBO's TRUE DETECTIVE. Avery is trying to bust a drug and human trafficking raid run by crime lord and all-around shitbag Max Livingston (the unlikely Mike Epps), who's also alternately referred to as "Max Livington" in an apparent homage to Stallone's Lincoln Hawk(s) in OVER THE TOP. But don't think Willis is putting forth any effort, because the action soon switches gears and becomes THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN remade as a blue collar TAKEN ripoff. The MacGregors took no guff as kids (they're shown decking some bullies in a flashback) and they still don't as adults. So when baby brother Roman's (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE's Ashton Holmes) fiancee and childhood sweetheart Mia (Melissa Bolona) is abducted by Living(s)ton's goons (one of them played by Sean Brosnan, son of Pierce) and held captive among destitute women forced into drug addition and prostitution (and his inventory of "product" is depleted thanks to a bad batch of fentanyl making the rounds) and the cops' hands are inevitably tied, Roman's military vet brothers--eldest Deklan (Cole Hauser), a PTSD anger management case who can't adjust to civilian life, and elder Brandon (Shawn Ashmore), also a combat vet--give him a crash course in military and weapons training. This preps them all to go full urban SEARCHERS to mount a rescue mission to save Mia and destroy Living(s)ton's operation.

As far as these kinds of by-the-numbers, straight-to-VOD actioners with 29 credited producers go, ACTS OF VIOLENCE is passable. It moves briskly enough and with the closing credits rolling at 80 minutes, doesn't overstay its welcome. There's no shortage of cliches, whether it's frustrated Avery telling Deklan to back off and let the cops do their job, or Avery reaching into his top desk drawer for a flask of Jim Beam to pour into his coffee mug, or the very concept of average citizens taking the law into their own hands (which Willis will be doing soon in Eli Roth's upcoming remake of DEATH WISH). You've seen this movie a thousand times before, but director Brett Donowho and screenwriter Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto earn some points by letting things get a little more unpleasant and grim than expected, as well as demonstrating a willingness to kill off characters you wouldn't expect. Still, don't look for much in the way of cinema verite or social commentary despite Ohio, particularly the Cleveland area with its close proximity to the Ohio Turnpike, being a key transportation hub in human trafficking as well as a major contributor to the state's distressingly high numbers of overdose deaths related to the opioid epidemic.

While it's not enough to make it anything above average, ACTS OF VIOLENCE also gets a surprising boost from a convincing performance by Hauser. Looking and sounding more and more like his dad--B-movie legend Wings Hauser--as he gets older, Hauser is actually trying here and there's no reason he shouldn't have a busy career in these kinds of movies. He'll always have DAZED AND CONFUSED, but he also paid his dues with supporting roles in big-budget hits like PITCH BLACK and 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, but Hollywood gave up on trying to make him a leading man after nobody went to see PAPARAZZI and THE CAVE a decade and a half ago. Hauser could be a case of getting better with age, because he gives ACTS OF VIOLENCE a little more stoical grit than you'd expect. He's certainly more enthused about being here than his HART'S WAR and TEARS OF THE SUN co-star Willis, who mumbles his way through his sporadic appearances like he just accidentally took some Advil PM for a daytime headache. A visibly inconvenienced Willis is doubled in a few shots of his character from behind and probably didn't work on this for more than two days, but even he fares better than an under-utilized Sophia Bush, wasted in a frivolous supporting role as Avery's concerned partner. Bush's lines are limited mainly to some variation on "Avery, are you OK?" and you have to wonder why she left a popular hit cop show like CHICAGO P.D. to play essentially the same role in a run-of-the-mill Bruce Willis VOD cop movie. This isn't exactly an upward move if she left TV for the movies, unless she's taking misguided career advice from Bruce Willis.

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