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The buddy cop genre is all but played out with nearly every conceivable pairing there is, the joke of it capped way back in 1993’s Last Action Hero, though there seems no end to the trope decades on. With One Upon a Time in Venice, a new comedy that pits one more odd couple together, that pairing is an admittedly funny one filled with lots of potential though there’s not much we haven’t seen before, however at least it gets some quality mileage from its star.
That would be none other than Bruce Willis who of late has not made any great effort to find the best roles, sticking mostly to indie projects that give him limited screen time and a hefty paycheck. Here though, he is back in the lead role and for the most part, has some fun with the premise, playing LA detective Steve Ford, a former disgraced police officer handling petty cases as he spends his time skateboarding and chilling, helping his pals, including Dave (John Goodman) with his divorce, and taking care of sister-in-law Katey (Famke Janssen) and her daughter. Mostly though, he’s showing bumbling new partner John (Thomas Middleditch) how to do the job though all of that goes out the window when Steve’s cuddly dog gets stolen, which puts him in the line of fire with a gang leader named Spyder (Jason Momoa), a person he’s already got beef with from an earlier incident.
Written by Mark and Robb Cullen and directed by Mark in their feature film debut, Once Upon a Time in Venice sees them returning to work with Willis, having written the script for his 2010 buddy cop movie Cop Out, taking that formula and recycling it for one more spin. It’s a familiar theme with a good-natured guy running afoul of just about everything in his path and the Cullen’s throw whatever they can into the mix to try and trip up Steve, sometimes making it work though the tonal ups and downs often leave it hard to know where it’s all supposed to be. If you can imagine a fully naked Bruce Willis riding a skateboard while being chased by thugs and then holding a pistol between his butt cheeks as police corner him, well, you might see where this is going. Or not.
It’s all played out in a sort of ‘day in the life’ attitude with movements in the story progressing along with new characters coming and going, including Lou the Jew (Adam Goldberg), a spastic real estate manager at the end of his rope because of a graffiti artist, a pretty girl named Nola (Jessica Gomes) who likes to have sex with Steve but can’t seem to do it without her big brothers trying to stop her, and a few others, all pulling Steve in different directions. It’s a lot to unpack and while Willis seems up to the task, committed to the whole ordeal with jump off the cliff gung-ho, the film itself can’t seem to find it’s groove either as a parody or a fun adventure. It’s great to see Willis in charming comedic form again, but it’s not enough to elevate this to where it should.
Movie description: Once Upon a Time in Venice is a 2017 action/comedy about a Los Angeles detective who seeks out the ruthless gang who stole his dog.
Director(s): Mark Cullen
Actor(s): Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Jason Momoa