Bruce Willis is best known for some of his earlier work, from the Die Hard film franchise to Pulp Fiction. Recently, he quit acting altogether after his family announced that he suffered from aphasia. That didn’t stop him from ending his career with a bang, as he’s produced numerous direct-to-video movies over the past few years, apparently trying to cram in as many films as possible before retirement.
Direct-to-video movies never really have a chance to gain traction. Sometimes they can even be released without your knowledge, because without theatrical release or trailers, these movies tend to slip under a lot of people’s noses. Sometimes that’s not a good thing because the movie can be really well done or deep, or sometimes it’s for the best because the movie wasn’t very good (most are straight to video for some reason ). However, there’s at least one thing you can count on in almost all of Willis’ work, and that’s that the movie is bound to be action-packed.
survive the night
Survive the Night is an action thriller that takes place over one night. Two criminals try to rob a garage, but when the owner fights back, one of them is injured. They manage to escape and break into the house instead, holding the family hostage and forcing the doctor inside to bandage the criminal’s gunshot wound. When the doctor’s father, Frank, discovers that his wife is dead because of the criminals, he interrupts the operation and begins to attack. Now it’s Frank against the criminals as he tries to save the rest of the family by luring them outside, hoping he can make his family survive the night.
Willis plays Frank in this film. Although he tries hard in his role, showing compassion for his family and resentment towards criminals, it’s not enough to save the movie. Spending an entire 90 minutes as a bottle movie in one location for one night surely helped keep the cost down, but it makes the story feel like it stretches far too long, because there isn’t really new and interesting developments that move her forward and out of the house. The film received a nomination for the Golden Raspberry Award – an awards show to highlight the worst in the film industry. Willis was nominated for the category of Worst Supporting Actor, and his performance and the film as a whole merge with the nearly two dozen films he made in the two years before his retirement.
You might recognize similar themes from other movies in Breach. This sci-fi horror film features a ship full of passengers as an alien bursts in and begins infecting them. An extinction-level event on Earth leads to 300,000 passengers being selected to send into space and move the population to New Earth, one of their space colonies. Noah hides out on the boat to stay with his pregnant girlfriend, and he poses as a janitor. Another janitor, Clay, takes him under his wing. When the first of the bodies appears, the teammates not in stasis begin to realize something is up, and no matter how many times they kill the infected, they keep getting back up. It’s starting to get darker and darker for passengers as the number of infected people continues to rise.
Here you’ll find Willis as Clay, a grizzled janitor who tries to help the protagonist in any way he can. Of course, with the use of so many different films and tropes at once, the film becomes confusing and almost cliche. Breach draws from a ton of influences with alien invaders and space travel movies that have been made before, most notably in Alien, so even if the actors here try they can’t quite measure up of their predecessors. Willis received another nomination for Worst Supporting Actor at the Golden Raspberrys.
Another sci-fi movie, Cosmic Sin is about an alien invasion. In the 2500s, humans control three planets, including Earth. Their colonists discover and report an alien encounter, after which the unseen species begin to move. They force humans into their hive mind after ingesting a specific black liquid, and from there they are able to control humans. This allows them to sneak past the radar as they look no different. James Ford, previously dishonorably discharged from the military for his actions when one of the planets tried to secede, is called back to help. He and a select small team struggle as they attempt to land on the planet currently battling aliens, teaming up with the remaining survivors to try to find a way to save humanity.
Willis plays Ford in this film, again starring in an action film. Although it tries its best, the amount of exposition used to explain the story really bogs down at first. Some details aren’t even necessary for the plot, like how humanity originally colonized Mars but has since lost that colony. The story has potential, but it needed a bit more focus to make it really good. Willis was making so many straight-to-video movies at this point, one after another, that the Golden Raspberrys decided to create an entire category just for him. “Bruce Willis’ Worst Performance in a Movie of 2021” would have guaranteed him a win for one of his live-action movies if the category hadn’t been canceled after his aphasia diagnosis was announced.
Survive the game
Survive the Game is an action thriller surrounding the world of crime. A drug bust that doesn’t go well injures David, a cop. His partner, Cal, decides to pursue the culprits in an attempt to arrest them again. He follows them to an isolated farmhouse owned by a troubled veteran, Eric, who teams up with Cal to get rid of the criminals. As they try to come up with a plan, an injured David joins them, but more of the gang arrives at the farm, outnumbering the men and forcing them to use creative tactics to take out the gang.
Willis plays veteran Eric here, a role that suits him in this action flick. Of the three who team up to take down the gang, he definitely helps balance them. Although the plot is general, the film avoids many classic tropes and clichés that it could have used, making for a more enjoyable experience than it could have been. the energetic and elegant direction of James Cullen Bressack helps. However, it was also one of the movies in the since canceled Golden Raspberrys category, so Willis dials it up a bit and the movie isn’t as good as it could be.
Given that sci-fi worlds are a popular setting for action movies, it’s no surprise that Apex is also set in the future. Although a specific year is not indicated, it is clear by technology that the world has changed. Thomas Malone is serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit when he was offered a chance at freedom. He must win a match on a private island to see his family again. Essentially, he is preyed upon by a group of wealthy hunters and must survive their hunt. As the Hunters slowly begin to turn around, Malone may have a chance to earn his freedom.
Willis plays Thomas Malone, showing us all the stops a person will go to when hunted for sport. The premise is as interesting as it is strange, as the wealthy pay their way to hunt other humans, but for this universe it remains an undisputed truth. There’s a seriousness to the film’s tone and its anger at runaway capitalism that keeps it from getting too crazy, but there’s plenty of cliches and bloody violence (making it feel like a version weak sci-fi from The Hunt) it’s hard to salvage because the plot is stretched to fit a feature film. It was another film in the Golden Raspberry category for Bruce Willis’ worst performance in a film of 2021.
Interestingly, Fortress is the first film in a trilogy of direct-to-video films that, according to its co-star, makes it “pass like a legend.” The film focuses on Robert, a retired American intelligence officer, and his son Paul. Robert lives in a top secret compound specifically designed for retired intelligence officers. When Paul decides to drive to visit him, the location is compromised as Robert’s old enemy follows him. When the criminals break in, Robert and Paul retreat to a hidden bunker, but fearing it won’t be enough, they must team up and work together if they hope to save the day.
Willis stars as Robert, bringing the retired intelligence officer to life. The movie moves at the right pace to keep you interested all the time, and it has some exciting action scenes, but it definitely has some weak points, especially character-centric. Still, it’s fun to watch, even though it also entered that canceled category at the Golden Raspberrys.
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