Cary Grant spent the last years of his box office stardom acting in ensemble pictures, top billed, but playing second banana to the likes of Tony Curtis, Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn.
When it was time to take a backseat to Jim Hutton (“Walk, Don’t Run”), Grant wasn’t stupid. He hung it up, “closed the door” as Garbo said — preserved his image for the future by not devaluing the brand with bit parts, old men who didn’t save the day or “get the girl.”
Bruce Willis is top-billed in “Reprisal,” even though he spends much of the film waiting for Frank Grillo, who plays his neighbor, to show up asking for his help. And much of the rest of the time he’s listening in, by phone, as neighbor Jacob (Grillo) chases down the bad guy who murdered people at the bank where he worked, traumatized him and made his employer and the F.B.I. wonder if he had something to do with what looked like “an inside job.”
In this, the “Death Wish” stage of the Willis career, entering his mid-60s and looking it, with more ill-conceived action pictures in the can and three more (another “Die Hard?”) in the planning, pre-production stages, you have to wonder how he’s missing the obvious.
He doesn’t have a third act in him. He stopped being funny 25 years ago, he’s never warmed to villainy, doesn’t have the grandpa/wise old man of the West, the War or The Business in his quiver.
Go ahead and prove me wrong, Bruno. But I’m looking at what you’ve done lately and what you have lined up, and I’m wondering why you’re putting yourself through it.
“Reprisal” is a dull, low-heat genre thriller presenting the formidable Grillo (Netflix “Wheelman”) as an Everyman Banker, struggling to make ends meet (Stop laughing.), trying to take care of the runway-ready wife half-his-age (Oliva Culpo) and diabetic daughter.
They’re living well, but struggling to maintain the standard of living. And Jacob? He’s showing up to work in the usual Frank Grillo stubble. Promotion material? Not hardly.
Then a ruthless robber strikes. We’ve seen him (Johnathan Schaech, who’s been hitting the gym) call in a bomb threat in the opening moments of “Reprisal.”
“There’s a bomb under the bridge, set to go off at 9 am. Which bridge is it?”
Then he plays dress-up, covered in tactical gear and mask, and storms into Cincinnati bank — shooting a guard, handing out note cards with instructions –“Open the safe,” is one, and if they hesitate, “Open the f—–g safe” is the second.
The robbery has a little juice to it, some of it shot with a GoPro gun-sight First Person Shooter POV, the robber firing off rounds and pounding on metal doors, desks, etc., to keep the hostages rattled.
Jacob is as rattled as they get. Then the FBI interrogators seem both sympathetic and suspicious. He’s put on unpaid leave.
“I should’ve DONE something” is his survivor’s guilt. But the Feds and maybe his employers think he might have had something to do with the planning, so that’s his other nightmare.
Lucky thing he’s got a retired cop (Willis) for a neighbor. They talk through Jacob’s memories of the robbery, fix on details and start their own “investigation.”
There’s a little PD slang — “BOLO” (Be on the Lookout/APB) — a little background to “motivate” the trigger-happy shooter/robber (We see him visit his Silver Star honored Marine Corps vet father, half-demented in a nursing home).
And there’s a cute montage, set to music, of Jacob and neighbor James obsessively reasoning out clues, looking for patterns in this guy’s robberies, as Schaech’s shooter diagrams a future heist, marking out doorways, walls, etc on a warehouse floor, putting targets where there would be human “obstacles.” He does a live-fire rehearsal of all the folks he might have to shoot, next time. As I said, “cute.”
Jacob’s sniffing around gets BadGuy attention, and not remembering he’s the murderous instigator of all this, BadGuy vows “an eye for an eye.”
There’s virtually nothing to distinguish “Reprisal” from a thousand other cop-vs-robber B pictures, except for the violence. Schaech stands out from the cast, a wound-up psychopath who won’t brook “disrespect” for his old man in the home, but manhandles and murders the rest of humanity as if by entitlement.
Grillo isn’t bad, but he gives us nothing much to hang onto here. We see his dilemma, but not his angst. As I said, Netflix “Wheelman.” Fiftysomething Frank gets it done in that one, even without a 26 year-old wife.
And Willis? Don’t be fooled by the action image above. He’s a bystander, here. and if he’s not careful, it’s these last five years of bad-and-worse movies, the “diva” gossip which won’t go away, which he’ll be remembered for, and not “Yippee ki yay” after all.
An Action Diva in Winter isn’t pretty.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Cast: Bruce Willis, Frank Grillo, Olivia Culpo, Natali Yura, Johnathan Schaech
Credits:Directed by Brian A. Miller, script by Bryce Hammons. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:29