Once Upon a Time in Venice

For F*** Magazine

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE 

Director : Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen
Cast : Bruce Willis, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, John Goodman, Famke Janssen, Adam Goldberg, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomes
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 34min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes And Nudity)

           In this action comedy, Bruce Willis is a dick. A private dick. Willis plays Steve Ford, a disgraced former LAPD officer who has set up shop as a detective. Steve’s domain is the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, and with the help of his beleaguered assistant John (Middleditch), Steve helps track down missing persons. The house of Steve’s sister (Janssen) is burgled, with Buddy, Steve’s beloved Parson Russell Terrier, among the stolen items. The culprit, a drug lord named Spyder (Momoa), holds Buddy hostage, demanding that Steve run several errands for him before he can have his dog back. With the help of John and surf shop proprietor Dave (Goodman), Steve must retrieve Buddy by any means possible.

Willis has been absolutely slumming it in direct-to-DVD action movies, continuing that streak with Once Upon a Time in Venice. The movie is written and directed by brothers Mark and Robb Cullen, who wrote the Willis-starring Cop Out. It’s painful to watch Once Upon a Time in Venice strain so hard to be even remotely funny. This is listless, incoherent stuff which feels like it was rejected from a network TV comedy. The best set-piece, which involves Steve skate-boarding buck naked, takes place early in the movie, with nothing approaching that level of zaniness for the rest of its duration.

The premise and the posters try to sell this as a John Wick spoof, and Once Upon a Time in Venice would have been much better had it actually been an all-out parody of John Wick. There are also shades of the far more energetic and innovative Keanu, in which a hitman’s missing cat was the linchpin of the plot. Even with swearing, nudity and violence, Once Upon a Time in Venice fails to generate even a scintilla of excitement.

The cast that the Cullen Brothers has at their disposal is not too shabby. Willis is a shadow of his former A-lister self but his declining clout notwithstanding, he still was John McClane. One would think any filmmaker would be smart enough to play up that persona in an action comedy. Silicon Valley star Middleditch can play neurotic without being unbearably annoying, but in this movie, he’s saddled with dreadfully unfunny lines. The voiceover he performs is grating.

The dependable, talented John Goodman is completely wasted, and this movie makes poor use of Jason Momoa as well. He spends most of Once Upon a Time in Venice lounging around, participating in very few action scenes. Janssen shows up for a couple of scenes, and swimsuit model Jessica Gomes is only in this movie so she can go topless. She has a sex scene with Willis, who is 30 years her senior, which is as awkward as it sounds. Adam Goldberg plays a character named “Lou the Jew”, in one of several uncomfortable moments in which mild anti-Semitism is played for laughs. Kal Penn plays a store clerk in one scene, veteran character actor Christopher Macdonald shows up in a throwaway part, and for no discernible reason, there’s a David Arquette cameo.

At once a terrible comedy and a terrible action flick, Once Upon a Time in Venice is excruciating to watch. It’s uninspired, often tasteless and awash in wasted potential. A silly, devil-may-care action comedy spoof of John Wick could have been, if nothing more, diverting entertainment. Once Upon a Time in Venice isn’t even in the same area code as entertainment.

Summary: A dismal demonstration of how low erstwhile movie star Bruce Willis has sunk, Once Upon a Time in Venice will test the tolerance of even the most hardened direct-to-DVD action movie connoisseur.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Taken 3

For F*** Magazine

TAKEN 3

Director : Olivier Megaton
Cast : Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 46 mins
Opens : 8 January 2015
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Brief Coarse Language)
Bryan Mills (Neeson) or, as we like to call him, “MC Millz with da Skillz”, is back for a third take. This time, he finds himself framed for the murder of his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) and on the lam from Inspector Frank Dotzler (Whitaker) of the LAPD. It seems Stuart St. John (Scott), whom Lenore married after her divorce with Bryan, might have played a hand in her murder. In addition to evading capture by the authorities, Bryan has to protect his beloved daughter Kim (Grace) and luckily enough has his old pals from his CIA days on his side.
            “It ends here”, the tagline on the poster proclaims. If this really is the conclusion to the Taken series, then it ends with a whimper rather than a bang. Taken 3 – or Tak3n, if you prefer – is a rote, derivative affair. This is essentially The Fugitive, with a pursued protagonist who has to prove to the determined cop in charge that he did not kill his wife. The first Takenfilm drew comparisons to the TV series 24, right down to the names of both protagonists’ daughters being “Kim”. The Los Angeles setting of Taken 3 does not help matters and even in its weaker seasons, the Kiefer Sutherland-starring show managed to be more exciting than this. At least the second film had the setting of Istanbul (following up from Paris in the first one) to set it apart from the action-thriller pack. Olivier Megaton, who helmed the second film and who is probably the most ho-hum director among all of Luc Besson’s disciples, ensures the action is as jumbled and incoherent as ever, packing in the shaky-cam and the whiplash editing.

            Taken 3’s greatest asset is its always-capable leading man. While Liam Neeson most likely agreed to this just for the paycheck, he looks nowhere near as disinterested and lackadaisical as, say, Bruce Willis in his later-period action films. He’s still believably tough and badass, and that’s got to count for something. Unfortunately, the novelty of seeing the Oscar-calibre actor punching and shooting his way through scores of bad guys has more or less worn off. Forest Whitaker is not good in this; apparently tics like fiddling with a chess piece and an elastic band are acceptable substitutes for any actual characterisation. His Inspector Dotzler is clearly meant to be in the same vein as Tommy Lee Jones’ Samuel Gerard from the afore-mentioned The Fugitive, but Whitaker fails to be even half as compelling.

            Oddly enough, Dougray Scott replaces Xander Berkeley as Lenore’s estranged husband Stuart – they look nothing alike and this reviewer had to double-check to make sure Stuart was in fact the same character as in the first film. While depicted as merely a milquetoast rich guy in Taken, Taken 3 sees Stuart turn into more of a badass, which is a head-scratch-inducing turn. Sam Spruell, who seems to have become the go-to guy when a Hollywood flick needs someone to play a real creep, is unconvincing as ex-Spetsnaz Russian mob boss Malankov. His lackeys in the film seem to have been found at the bottom of the “generic action movie villain” discount bin.


            Something this reviewer wanted to see more of from the first two movies was the old CIA pals Bryan hung out at barbecues with. In this film, they do have a larger part to play in the plot, helping Bryan lie low as he is pursued by the long arm of the law. Alas, we don’t exactly get to see them kick ass alongside their former colleague in a “reliving the glory days” kind of team-up action sequence. Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen also visibly struggle to figure out what to do with the Kim character, the scenes of supposedly-emotional father-daughter interaction instead almost unbearably awkward. The action scenes are non-descript, it’s middling and uninspired and while it isn’t like the first Taken was some kind of masterpiece, it was at least exhilarating entertainment.


Summary:On the bright side, it looks like we won’t be getting T4ken after this dry re-tread of an action flick.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong