by Rob DiCristino
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!”
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)
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.