If Bruce Willis’ recent filmography suggests the actor is ready to make a cult classic So Bad It’s Good, Deadlock simply lacks the X factor to do the trick.
This awards season, Bruce Willis is up for a trophy. It was nominated for the Razzies in the created-exclusive category of Worst Performance by Bruce Willis in a 2021 Film.
In the fray are the eight movies the Hollywood veteran released in the past year, including Dead end, he is therefore an infallible “winner”. And if you’re a Willis fan feeling let down by the situation, consider this: The actor has already locked down eight films for 2022, with three more scheduled for next year so far.
It is important to note this aspect to understand where the actor comes from with his new film. Clearly, quality of work or box office impact are no longer important to Willis, once counted among Hollywood’s biggest stars.
The cold fact above would work as a quick review of Dead end so, in addition to highlighting his new career strategy: when the offers dry up, flood the marquee with whatever project you can get your hands on and stay in the limelight. Dead end is just one of many recent releases by Willis for this purpose.
Watching the B-movie action drama unfold in the film, an obvious question comes to mind. Is Willis ready to do a Charles Bronson or a Chuck Norris at this point in his career? These stars have had careers in scoring with second string actors. Dead end belongs in the category, but Willis’ role in the film is yet another reminder that the once-superstar is no longer marketable enough as a hero – not even in a B-movie production. Dead end is a die hard copycat but at 66, Willis probably seemed over the hill to echo the John McClane stereotype. The actor is therefore content with the role of villain in this film.
Thematically, the film resembles a script idea that the producers of the die hard franchise could have rejected. The action-drama rehashes many of the tropes that made the Willis-starrer action series a rage across five outings spanning decades, but very little of what happens in Dead end reveals an ambition to feast on original thrills. The effort here was clearly never about redefining the basics of the Hollywood action genre. On the contrary, the game plan is obvious: the action film has a ready fan base all over the world, so create an identifiable face on the poster with an excuse of a script that allows violence on stage with a tight budget. There are bound to be takers somewhere.
This idea becomes all the more obvious when you notice Jared Cohn’s name as the director in the credits. Cohn’s directorial career spanning just over a decade is notable for his numerous collaborations with The Asylum, the Hollywood independent film company that thrives on low-budget direct-to-video productions. A highlight of Cohn’s films is how he plays with the essence of big-banner, big-budget themes and reimagines them as smaller So Bad It’s Good projects – a reason he was likely tapped to direct. this counterfeit project. .
In Dead endCohn and co-writer Cam Cannon cast Willis as Ron Whitlock, who leads a group of terrorists on a typical course of action that each die hard the villain has resorted to over the years. The setting here is a hydroelectric dam and power plant in Georgia. A group of teenage students arrive for a trip to the factory. That’s when Ron and his gang burst into the area and take the workers and students hostage.
The exception is Mack Karr [played by Patrick Muldoon, trying so hard to hit John McClane mode that it shows]. Karr is a former Army Ranger and his presence in the middle of all the action is justified by the fact that he now works as a welder at the dam. Ideally, and in classic die hard tradition, when the villains go into action, Mack happens to be invisible because he was working on a beam on the outer walls of the dam.
Aside from the hostage formula, there are several stock situations that might remind you of the die hard movies. Like the taxi driver in die hard, the hero receives a sidekick here too, in the form of a novice security guard. There are also the inside men at the dam, to help Ron in his mission. On the other hand, Mack’s personal life tries to borrow its emotional quotient from the die hard movies too – he shares a tense equation with his ex-wife Sophia [Ava Paloma]. Cohn welcomes Sophia into the thick of the action by writing the character as one of the staff at the dam.
The villain’s diabolical plan is driven by personal tragedy. Ron threatens to drown hundreds of thousands of innocent people by opening the dam floodgates unless he gets a satisfactory explanation from the police for his son’s death in a shootout.
The Ron de Willis is not all black. On the contrary, there is an effort to imagine it with some redeeming characteristics. We first find him living in a house with an American flag on the porch, so we have to assume he’s a patriot. He doesn’t flinch when bashing the cops but is sensitive towards a pregnant captive, so he’s a villain with a heart. Although there is no ideological motive behind what he does, you spot a weak commentary on police brutality.
It is however a symbolic gesture and a role too half-cooked to leave an impact. You give up trying to find deeper context about Ron as an antagonist soon enough and choose to focus on the action drama that promises to unfold.
Dead end, however, is not Die hard. The action quota, meant to be the film’s big draw, is too sporadic and unimaginatively executed to thrill.
the die hard the model itself looks jaded and overused now – the creators of Dead end forgot that the last of the franchise films actually had little to no impact.
Cohn’s mastery of producing low-budget winners led him to branch out into darker genres, including horror. [Hold Your Breath, Devil’s Revenge, Little Red Rotting Hood]sci-fi horror [The Horde]science fiction monster violence [Atlantic Rim]and the erotic thriller [Bound].
However, what works generically in horror, erotica, or monster movies appeals far less when applied to the die hard action mold. A thriller, even if packaged like a B movie, needs an element of urgency. Dead end is too lax in pacing, filmed too ordinarily, and simply lacks that performance that might have redeemed it as a commercial action artist of some value.
For a movie that keeps its running time well under 100 minutes, Dead end is poorly written and executed. The narrative wastes nearly 15 minutes establishing characters and plot, then unfolds like one of those movies you can start or stop watching at any time and not miss out on context or story. Throughout its runtime, you know exactly where the movie is going and how it’s all going to end.
Dead end, and all the other movies Bruce Willis has made in the last year, would suggest the actor really wants to make a So Bad It’s Good movie. It seems to forget one basic fact every time: even a bad movie needs some sort of X-factor appeal to achieve cult status. This does not happen with Dead end — or, for that matter, the other seven movies that could net him his ill-fated Razzie this year.
Deadlock is streaming on Lionsgate Play.
Vinayak Chakravorty is a Delhi-NCR based film critic, columnist and film journalist.
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