In “Gasoline Alley,” Devon Sawa plays an ex-con tattoo artist who’s sure he’s being framed for a quadruple homicide in that corner of Tifton, Georgia that looks nothing like Southern California, which is where the story is set.
Sawa’s ex-con is sounding out an actor/friend (Kenny Wormald) on the set of some crap TV series called “American Siege” when an ex-con mechanic on set wonders if “this guy” is bothering him.
The moment the cons amusingly establish each other’s prison bonafides, Jimmy Jayne (Sawa) turns to Roy (Billy Jack Harlow) to ask for his card. “Got a ’66 Chevelle with a sticky clutch,” he explains.
It’s a rare light scene that more or less comes off in a movie where such moments die of loneliness. And nobody on that set — not the star, Sawa, not Harlow, who is Southern and should know better, and not writer-director Edward Drake, who directed Harlow and Bruce Willis in a “real” movie called “American Siege” last year, not a stunt driver, script supervisor, a transportation chief or a single Georgia production assistant — had the wherewithal to correct that blunder.
We’ve seen the pimped-out Chevelle. We see it again when it is hurled into the last place a vintage Chevelle SS with oversized rims belongs, an offroad car chase. And it’s plainly a ’71, which looks almost nothing like the double-headlight ’66 our “hero” is supposed to be driving.
That’s a stupid thing to fixate on, but it’s indicative of the class of movie Bruce Willis is collecting a check a month to appear in these days. “Gasoline Alley” is lifeless, formulaic hackwork created by people who might think they know where to put a camera, but have no business conjuring up stories, creating characters or writing dialogue that sounds like the speech of native English speakers.
Sawa’s tattoo artist is nosing around, trying to clear his name after a hooker (Irina Antonenko) he met in a bar turns up dead, with three other hookers. Willis plays one of the detectives on the case, the one without many lines.
Luke Wilson tries to make the swaggering, drawling chatterbox lead detective worth listening to. Det. Vargas is supposed to be on the ball, updating their chief suspect on the progress of the case they’re building against him, making threats.
They’re going to escort Jimmy to the “electric chair,” he promises. “It’s like that old Gospel number, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.'”
I guess that’s supposed to be a joke because A), it’s a classic of the American Songbook, from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Carousel,” and B), I’ve interviewed Luke Wilson a few times, and he’s not stupid enough to leave that line be if he isn’t trying to be funny.
I get a sense, from the scenes where all three actors appear, that the other two are there to prop up Willis, who seems unfocused, the sort of participant in the project who can’t even feign interest in most of the scenes he’s in.
Whatever rumors one hears about Willis’s health these days, unless he’s working for the insurance he really is doing a number on his legacy in movies like this.
“Gasoline Alley” takes its name from a tattoo shop where virtually nobody shows up to get inked, leaving Jimmy plenty of time to ask around, get in fights and draw attention to assorted people, most of whom end up dead after he’s questioned them.
The one car chase is somewhat short of half-assed. And there’s one fight that looks real because the actors are actually in it and the choreography has a lot more wrestling, kicking and hair-pulling than roundhouse-punching movie fights typically offer.
Sawa sucks down a lot of smokes, wears a lot of black and gives the lead role a good old college try. But the lifeless script, the aimlessness that drifts from scene to scene and the eye-rolling cliche of a payoff and finale give away a movie that’s running on fumes, not ideas.
And the best reason for everybody else to collect a check for it is that no one will remember anything except Bruce Willis was in it, he was bad and the picture was worse.
Rating: R for violent content, drug use, language throughout and some sexual content
Cast: Devon Sawa, Luke Wilson, Kat Foster, Sufe Bradshaw, Kenny Wormald, Irina Antonenko and Bruce Willis.
Credits: Directed by Edward Drake, scripted by Tom Sierchio and Edward Drake. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:37