It’s fair to say Bruce Willis has taken his foot off the gas a bit in recent years. Who can blame him? Stars fade, and now everyone’s a 24/7 commentator it’s hard to keep working into advanced age, when the scripts landing on the mat require you to acknowledge the limitations of your age and play up to them, and even dip into the straight-to-digital-download market, without some accusing you of trashing your legacy.
People feel this sense of regret more keenly with Robert De Niro, who had further to fall after he stopped trying in 2002, but he at least continues to play the first or second lead, putting his name to the project and living or dying by it. Willis increasingly takes on roles that seem to require little time investment, and mails it in contentedly.
There’s a responsibility that comes with having a big name, though. As he and Precious Cargo’s director Max Adams are aware, he’s there because no one is going to see it if he’s not, and I suspect his involvement was key to getting the film funded. With that in mind, and given that his name and image are heavily featured in the promotional material, you’d expect him to be on screen for more than the 30 minutes or so that he is.
In fairness, I don’t know that more Bruce would’ve saved it. Bagging on a low-budget film that’s its director’s first feature doesn’t exactly give you the warm and fuzzy feels, but there’s no escaping the fact that Precious Cargo is awful: riddled with clichés and crammed with dialogue you can’t believe made it through a second draft. It made me think of how fun it is to watch an action film from the eighties and laugh at how changing cultural reference points and dramatic fashions now make what was then performed and received straight-faced look ridiculous 30 years later. Except that when you unblinkingly release the same thing in 2016, the layer of ironic distance isn’t there to act as coverage.
What it forgets is this: heist movies need a satisfyingly intricate plan, some double-bluff you didn’t see coming, and a likeable lead or two. Your heist man is a criminal after all, so you need the person he’s ripping off to be irredeemably bad (Bruce’s Eddie, just about) and the guy himself to be some combination of charming, funny, ingenious or whip-smart, so you’re impressed by him and want his plan to succeed.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Jack is none of these things. He’s the sort of rascal who still cracks jokes when he’s got a gun in his face but lacks the charisma to make this endearing, and is sold to us as a master thief without ever displaying the skills to justify it. Around him are dotted sundry heist mainstays. Karen (Claire Forlani) is his old partner both in crime and the biblical sense, complicating his bachelor life by returning carrying his child. The idea is she’s a wily operator but no evidence to support this ever surfaces. Logan (Jenna B. Kelly) is an expert sniper and identikit badass chick in a vest top who thinks romance is stupid. Other one-note heisty types show up, and then Bruce … well, he’s just sort of there.
As for the clever heist plan: well, if it showed up I must have missed it. This is the thing that justifies a heist film’s existence, and while contemporaries like Now You See Me 2 are guilty of letting down their audience on a grander scale in this regard, they at least manage to have some fun along the way. Precious Cargo could’ve pitched itself as a tongue-in-cheek throwback to the more outlandish crime cinema of the eighties and nineties, having its cake and laughing at it, but nope: it’s straight down the middle. Don’t call it a romp: it’s not enjoying itself, Bruce isn’t either, and you certainly aren’t.
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