Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bruce La Bruce

I'm Bruce Willis from wreckandsalvage on Vimeo.
After a brief hiatus, we're coming back with a few new reviews, so please stay tuned. Tell your friends. No, not the guy with the bad combover. Maybe the other friend.

Taking this occasion to weigh in on the movie star enigma that is Bruce Willis (and to post that fun video above). Never too interesting, but never too boring, Willis has had an exciting career working in all genres, and while he'll be remembered as an action star, he showed a willingness, if not always a talent, for out-of-the-box experimentation. He still hasn't taken the dive into "Cold Souls" or Charlie Kaufman territory (as in "Ocean's Twelve," he remains ill-equipped to laugh at himself), but the body of work he leaves behind once he ceases to be relevant is more than impressive.

Favorite Bruce Performances:

"Die Hard" - Who can forget the image of the harried everyman pulling shards of glass from his bare feet while chastising oblivious cops through a lackluster walkie-talkie? An indelible image that makes you forget stardom made Willis re-invent himself as a bulletproof moviestar - he would never be forced to confront his mortality in quite the same way again.

"Mortal Thoughts" - A legit acting performance from a guy who often coasted on his own charisma or steely machismo. Willis takes a supporting role in this adequate potboiler as an abusive husband who is murdered, only to turn up again in a series of flashbacks that, for me, rank as one of the more human portrayals of an abusive spouse as I've seen onscreen. There are certain easy ways to get the audience's sympathies, and showing a good woman take a beating from her lover sure ranks up there, but while Willis' character never comes across as short of loathsome, it's very thoughtful, nuanced work.

"The Last Boy Scout" - Probably the best of Willis' laconic movie star roles, this actioner, an underrated highlight of the 90's, pits Willis against comedian Damon Wayans for screentime, and Shane Black's script allows them to match quip for quip, but it's Willis' comic timing that shines in the matchup between, ostensibly, the straight-man and the goofball. Also noteworthy for being Willis' angriest mainstream role to date, as he endures and doles out a serious amount of punishment, never forgetting to give his character a dark satisfaction for the misery of others.

"Death Becomes Her" - Bruce goes broad as a second banana to warring vixens Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, and he plays his bumbling husband as both grandly comedic and slyly low-key. It clearly was not his movie, but as a colorful supporting member, Willis took great pains to create a three-dimensional clown that still realistically had chemistry with both performers.

"Last Man Standing"/"Sin City" - Cheating, I think, because these aren't BRILLIANT performances in either movie, but both films do benefit greatly from his presence. "Standing" is a Western take on "Yojimbo" from Walter Hill and it bristles and bustles with a jittery, loose energy, a lot of that coming from villain Christopher Walken at his Walken-est. Willis is stolid and mostly humorless, but he's a good a modern day anchor as any for this vehicle, as he keeps his poker face consistent through his dealings with multiple mob bosses. "City," meanwhile, works as a noir pastiche and little else, but it would be DOA without the grizzled line readings of Willis and co-star Mickey Rourke, the only two performers capable of realizing the level of pulp and seriousness needed for the material. For Willis, it's an actual performance, free of movie star mimicry or weepy theatrics, and as such the film works because Willis is the chilly heart at the center, a figure of empathy even after he leaves a regretful trail of bodies in his wake. The memorable ads for "Sin City" painted Willis as just another posturing badass, but the depth and meaning he gives to his few scenes with his silences fills the otherwise artificial air of the Frank Miller adaptation with life.

And the worst...
"Hudson Hawk" - I can't believe this movie exists. Terrible in every way, "Hawk" is one of the few worst movies of all time that truly deserves to be an all-time turkey, with nonsensical puns, arbitrarily colorful side characters, and a wincingly obnoxious turn by Willis, pushing his movie star smirk to the limit of toleration. He was not nearly ready to mock his persona, so as a result, "Hawk" is a tone-deaf satire of action and spy pictures without the benefit of a lead character who's in on the joke. It's pop art, in a way, and there's certainly a surprise in every scene, but it will be a cold day in hell before I sit through "Hudson Hawk" again anytime soon.

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