Main cast: Bruce Willis (Steve Ford), Jason Momoa (Spyder), John Goodman (Dave Phillips), Thomas Middleditch (John), Adam Goldberg (Lou the Jew), Maurice Compte (Oscar), Jessica Gomes (Nola), Kaleti Williams (Manu), Elisabeth Röhm (Anne Phillips), Stephanie Sigman (Lupe), Ron Funches (Mocha), Wood Harris (Prince), Christopher McDonald (Mr Carter), Adrian Martinez (Tino), Kal Penn (Rajeesh), Ken Davitian (Yuri), Emily Robinson (Taylor), and Famke Janssen (Katey Ford)
Director: Mark Cullen
Once Upon a Time in Venice is a painfully unfunny action comedy caper that seems more like an excuse for a bunch of people to show up for a short while in a movie set, ham it up, and then collect a paycheck. Most of the folks in the credits show up for only a few scenes, with only Bruce Willis – or more accurately, his body double, Thomas Middleditch, John Goodman, and Jason Momoa having the most of scenes here. A lot of the script and lines seem to be improvised on the sly, and I have to warn you: early in the movie there is a hilarious amount of naked “Bruce Willis”, only it’s very obvious that they have hired a younger, fitter body double to stand in for the rear end nudity and more physical scenes. The idea that I’m seeing a naked Bruce Willis is pretty unpleasant, though, especially considering how much the man has aged when they do a zoom-in on his face.
Mr Willis plays Steve Ford, a former police officer who was drummed out of the force in disgrace. Now a private investigator in Venice Beach, he spends most of his time chasing after women young enough to be his daughter, commiserating with his friend Dave (who is undergoing a bitter divorce), and generally acting all smug and smarmy. His assistant, John, acts as a narrator of the movie, an odd choice considering how he is only involved in one of the subplots in this movie.
Basically, the story is a series of misadventures. Steve and John bring back Nola, a young lady who has left her suffocating home, only to end up in bed with Steve – much to her brother’s displeasure. Steve, naked, is chased along the streets – the naked thing I mentioned earlier – until he is let into Tino’s house. But that is only after Tino makes Steve promise to retrieve his car from the neighborhood drug boss Spyder. He does, and this bites him back big time when two junkies break into his sister Katey’s house and steals Steve’s dog Buddy, only to later pass Buddy on to Spyder. This causes a chain of events that will see Steve going through some hurdles to get the dog back.
Meanwhile, Lew the Jew wants Steve to catch the person responsible for painting lewd graffiti art on the apartment blocks he is planning to sell to the Chinese. That’s more of John’s story, and it gets him a girlfriend, Nola. No, that’s not supposed to be creepy, him getting his boss’s sloppy seconds… I think.
The problem with this movie is that it feels very, very dated. It relies on shtick and punchlines that have been out of fashion since a decade or so ago. Really, is the idea of the hero being lusted by a bunch of tranny prostitutes still funny, rather than boring and, if you are so inclined, insulting to the trans community? That’s just one of the biggest examples of things that may work in the 1980s or 1990s, but are more akin today to tired gags of a stand-up comedian that hasn’t kept up with the times. Also, the movie is, at the same time, not willing to stray too far into dark or morbid humor. Its sexual elements are more juvenile than anything else, so the whole movie is more similar to Dumb and Dumber than the usual comedic noir movie.
This movie is, at the end of the day, just a half-baked and painfully unfunny waste of time. Next time, these guys should leave comedic thriller to the real professionals.