Sad state of affairs, reviewing any Bruce Willis film these days. You sit with pen poised, waiting to hear if they give him a single line of dialogue.
He’s going out with a quickie “instant” trilogy, most of which won’t make it into a theater near you. Did you miss “Detective Knight: Rogue?” Me, too. But “Detective Knight: Redemption” is now upon us, so let’s accentuate the positive. For a bit, anyway.
Hand it to Aussie writer-director Edward Drake. He made “Gasoline Alley,” “American Siege,” “Cosmic Sin” and these three “Detective Knight” films (“Detective Knight: Independence” is due out next year) with Willis in his fading aphasia years. He’s getting the hang of how to make use of an iconic actor with a serious language disorder.
“Presence” counts for something. So Drake emphasizes that.
Willis, whose LA cop character went “Rogue” in the first film and shot up a lot of folks, is seen in prison at the beginning of this, the middle film of the trilogy. He doesn’t have a line for the film’s first 26 minutes.
His one-liners — when they come — are pithy, short and if necessary, pieced together from different takes.
“I killed bad guys. It was a good day,” he says to the NYPD captain (Miranda Edwards) who comes to ask for his help with a murderous gang of ex-con bank robbers terrorizing The Big Apple over the holidays. “I own what I did.”
He was “inside” and met the leader of that prison gang, the messianic Conlan (Paul Johansson of TV’s “Van Helsing”). Maybe he can…help her and NYPD out? Knight has some thoughts, and Captain Shaye isn’t going to like them.
“You said to ‘do whatever it takes.’ This is what it takes.”
We can see some of the work-arounds and accommodations made to Willis as this film plays out — his character masked so that somebody else can do a stunt or three — tossing a grenade, for instance. Every actor he shares a scene with does almost all of the talking, with Willis’ Knight feigning interest or contempt, depending on the situation.
Spare your “name” star so he’ll have enough in him to threaten to “shove a Christmas tree” just where a Bruce Willis character would shove it.
The movie piled-up around this deference and accommodation? It’s kind of “Die Hard” meets “Dark Knight,” bleak and bloody and political, with some wingnutty cultish craziness, cop worship and corrupt politicians not worth the badge these “desecrate the oath” types wear.
In a story told out-of-order, Johannson plays an ex-con and prison chaplain who busts out scores of inmates that he can dress in Santa suits with blood-stained Santa masks to go on his crime crusade attacking “corporate” Christmas and “the one percent” in New York’s banks, “Where you worship your money,” he preaches at the trapped hostages.
One of the escapees is the guy (Beau Mirchoff) who shot Knight’s partner (Lochlyn Munro) in “Detective Knight: Rogue,” who is now on the case, even though he is still LAPD and even though he’s now in a wheelchair.
Rhodes, the convict who shot him, has a wife and kid, which makes him…sympathetic?
The gangsters are “the Real Saints of Christmas,” murderous goons who kill guards, hostages and bystanders in a comic-book-sized slaughter spree that might bring the city to its knees.
Your move, Knight.
I liked seeing how this film was conjured out of everything Willis can still manage to pull off. The preaching and speechifying around him gets WAY out of hand, but Johansson needed to go over-the-top, to flesh out a movie around a star who is still charismatic but who can’t really deliver the goods or carry a film any more.
But there’s no sugar-coating how much of a comedown these films are, or the fact that Willis has been churning out these godawful B-pictures for 15 years, now.
It’d be nice if his handlers and family had found him something more bittersweet and smart, and not violent and crypto-fascist, for him to use as his curtain calls. That wouldn’t have been on-brand, wouldn’t have been “him” and would not have attracted his aged, shrunken reactionary fan-base.
Ask Mel Gibson how this sort of diminished stature works in an aged-out action star.
One just hopes The Once and Future John McClane was well-compensated, and that his retirement is as comfortable as he’s earned, even if this is nobody’s idea of “Redemption.”
Rating: R for violence, language throughout and a sexual reference
Cast: Bruce Willis, Paul Johansson, Miranda Edwards, Lochlyn Munro, John Cassini and Beau Mirchoff.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Edward Drake. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:38