Californian Crazies

Once upon a Time in Venice

Director: Mark Cullen

Cast: Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Emily Robinson, Jessica Gomes, Famke Janssen, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Goldberg, Kal Penn

Bruce Willis relives his Pulp Fiction days when he skateboards naked down a street in Venice Beach, California playing washed up cop Steve Ford in the awfully bad and quite frenetic action movie Once Upon a Time in Venice directed by Mark Cullen.

When the tag line for a film is Never Mess with a Man’s Dog one should know that the film is not going to deliver an original narrative although at times Once upon a Time in Venice feels like a collection of Californian Crazies as the audience is introduced to Hispanic gangbangers headed by Hawaiian star Jason Momoa as Spyder who is soon to play Aquaman in the Justice League along with lewd graffiti artists, drag queens and monstrous real estate agents. The cast of characters is reminiscent of director Sean Baker’s 2015 art film Tangerine shot on an iPhone in Los Angeles except this comic adventure has Bruce Willis as its main hero.

The point to note is not to take Once Upon a Time in Venice too seriously as the entire film looks like it was made on a balmy Saturday afternoon in California by a production crew that was high.

The sad part is that both John Goodman and Bruce Willis are in the twilight of their film careers and are obviously getting desperate to act in such low brow fare. Not that Bruce Willis ever elevated the art of cinema beyond the Die Hard franchise but character actor John Goodman who was so brilliantly in the Coen brothers Barton Fink should have known better.

Goodman plays Steve Ford’s faithful buddy Dave, a divorcee who is battling to get rid of a dodgy surf shop while recovering from a terrible divorce.

Dutch actress, former bond girl and X-Men star Famke Janssen appears all too briefly as Ford’s sister Katey and Emily Robinson stars as his niece Taylor.

It is when their house on Venice Beach gets robbed by the merciless drug lord Spider, wonderfully played by Jason Momoa who steals all valuables including their dog, that the story sets off in a madcap sort of coastal way, which ultimately requires a wittier script and tantalizing action to keep audiences vaguely interested in the outcome of this truly bizarre film.

Once Upon a Time in Venice is 90 minutes of mediocre entertainment with Bruce Willis pulling the tough guy routine in a beachfront neighbourhood which is as bizarre as it is crazy. Venice Beach, that stretch of Californian beachfront which is being gentrified by tech companies and slimy landlords embodied by Adam Goldberg’s character Lew the Jew.

The only redeeming feature of this film is Ford’s younger partner John played by Thomas Middleditch whose sarcastic voice narrates the misadventure story which sort of loosely holds the narrative together as much as a tacky drag queen trying to keep a bra on. Yes there are drag queens too!

Once Upon a Time in Venice gets a film rating of 6 out of 10. The film is strictly for ardent fans of Bruce Willis who occasionally has to prove to audiences that he can pull off action and comedy simultaneously.

 

 

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