Monday, September 6, 2021


 by Rob DiCristino

The Movies are the Box.

Out of Death (2021, Dir. Mike Burns)

Back in December, when Adam and I wrote a Reserved Seating column about Breach (which is apparently a movie we both saw), I lamented the fact that Bruce Willis’ rumored base $1 million salary ate up too significant a portion of the movie’s production budget, that Breach’s team would have been better served spending that extra million on sets, special effects, or shooting days. Had they been able to come at Breach honestly, to rely on the strength of its screenplay or the creativity of its crew, it might have crossed that threshold between throwaway DTV schlock and respectable sci-fi actioner. Instead, due to marketing concerns, distributor pressure, or any number of other business considerations, trims had to be made in each of those departments to accommodate Willis’ salary. It’s a sacrifice made by artists of every medium in every era (era), and one assumes that Willis’ participation is the only reason Breach was made and released at all. It’s kinda cigar-chomping Old Hollywood, isn’t it? “This picture needs a star!”
Watching Out of Death, I was struck by the opposite feeling. The redneck cat-and-mouse thriller stars Willis — yes, actually stars him; he’s one of the main characters, in contrast with much of his other DTV output — as retired cop Jack Harris, a Philadelphian (woohoo!) who transplanted to the backwoods to be closer to his niece (Kelly Greyson as Pam) after his wife’s death. During a jaunty morning walk through said backwoods, he crosses paths with dirty cops Billie and Tommy (Lala Kent and Tyler Jon Olson), who are about to execute Shannon (Jaime King), a hiker who witnessed them engaging in some dirty cop business. Harris springs into sexagenarian action, rescuing Shannon and engaging in a cell phone tete-a-tete with corrupt sheriff Hank Rivers (Michael Sirow) as the latter man tries to salvage a shady operation gone wrong. Honestly, it’s about ninety minutes of people running around in the woods, which, given that Out of Death was shot at the height of the COVID pandemic, is understandable.

And so, whereas Breach was a picture sidelined by its need for a star, Out of Death is a star in search of something to do on a Tuesday afternoon (Literally. According to the internet, Willis shot all of his scenes in one day). Bruno sleepwalks through the drama in the usual way, giving the bare minimum of emotion for exactly his contracted number of frames before wandering off to hit on the most attractive production assistant. It may have just been the discount digital video (or the iMovie color grading used to make Out of Death look like Saving Private Ryan), but Willis is finally looking noticeably older on camera. He’s acting older, too, inexplicably playing his Jack Harris as if he was in his creaky late seventies. I couldn’t help but think that this was just Willis’ way of amusing himself, that when first-time director Mike Burns gently reminded him that Harris was a retired, thirty-year veteran, Willis recalled his favorite Werther’s Original commercial and acted accordingly. “Who cares?” he must have thought. “Out of Death is no Breach.”

Die in a Gunfight (2021, Dir. Collin Schiffli)
Think of the worst person you know. It could be a close friend, a co-worker, or someone who — though you met only briefly — left you with profound, explosive douche-chills that still reverberate to this day. A true sparkling dumbass, a person so irredeemable that they nearly circumnavigate the moral spectrum and become virtuous again. They copied all of your answers in algebra and never once got caught. They use the emergency lane to speed through highway traffic jams. They corner you at work and make you watch four-minute YouTube videos on their phone that they insist are “really funny.” Likely a white male, they seem to be perpetually failing upwards, to be falling short of industry standards by every measure but, because they’re also playing fantasy football with the right folks in Human Resources, keep occupying positions of influence. They’re not serial killers. They’re not running dog-fighting operations, or anything. It’s not that they’re doing something objectively evil. They’re just the fucking worst.

That person you’re imagining? Die in a Gunfight is their favorite movie. It’s the cast of Entourage performing Romeo and Juliet, a juvenile, narratively-inert Four Loko of a movie so smug and self-satisfied that it wouldn’t have surprised me to see each character bend over and shit their pants just to punish us for having the audacity to follow their stories. It begins as narrator Billy Crudup introduces the warring Gibbon and Rathcart families (both owners of global media conglomerates) and their star-crossed progeny, Ben (Diego Boneta) and Mary (Alexandra Daddario). In the years since Mary’s father put the kibosh on their high school love affair, both have been drifting from failure to failure, honing their snot-nosed underachievement for seemingly no reason aside from spite. They reunite under the shadow of corporate espionage, as a hitman (Travis Fimmel) and Mary’s would-be fiance (Justin Chatwin) inadvertently aid their reconciliation and recommitment to making everyone around them suffer.
Though I can’t imagine how badly Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari’s script pages must have reeked of Axe body spray, I understand why a screenplay like Die in a Gunfight would make 2010’s Black List of Hollywood’s best unproduced works. I understand why It Boys like Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson were briefly attached to the project as it spiraled through development hell, and I understand why it eventually ended up in my beloved Redbox. It’s got big Boondock Saints energy, the look and feel of a movie that hasn’t taken its Adderall and refuses to do its homework. Die in a Gunfight doesn’t care that it’s losing its scholarship or that you’re going to stop paying its insurance if it crashes the car again. Bratty, self-obsessed assholes need movies too, and there will always be dorm room wall space reserved for a movie like this. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be ashamed of itself, both for its condescension to cinema and for bringing Alexandra Daddario into this. She did Baywatch for you jokers. Let her be.


  1. The amount of douche chills the Die in a Gunfight trailer gave me was staggering. Glad to know my instincts were correct. Thanks for taking the hit on this one Rob

  2. Midnight in the Switchgrass, denied.

    "That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be ashamed of itself, both for its condescension to cinema and for bringing Alexandra Daddario into this. She did Baywatch for you jokers. Let her be."

    She also did The Layover but I feel like you were probably the only person who watched that.

    1. Clearly they are saving Midnight in the Switchgrass for a future theme month centered around watching a Bruce Willis DTV movie a day. Considering my local Redbox is 95% Willis DTV titles, this challenge should be pretttty easy. Except, of course, the actual watching part. Always a catch. D@mn.