If you go to sleep at night thinking, “I might not be Tom Cruise or Kevin Spacey, but I could be in one of those straight-to-DVD movies. Nobody famous is ever in those”, then firstly, think again, and secondly, that’s a bit weird.
There are a limited number of cinemas in this world and a heckuva lot of movies looking to get screen time. Most of those are low-budget films with casts of unknowns, or maybe some of those guys who were in that show, you know the one. More often than you’d bet, though, household names turn up in all kinds of hijinks you usually never even hear of.
Setup, out on DVD now, is one of those under-the-radar movies. It stars the former Mr Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe, and Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson as Vincent and Sonny, two buddies turned bank robbers – until Vincent shoots his pal and a childhood-friend-turned-accomplice and leaves them out to dry after a profitable diamond heist intended to block a prison transfer of his badass father.
Be forewarned – you’ll get to see a grown man say, “It’s sleepy time” to 50 Cent in this film. Willis plays a mob boss called Mr Biggs – yes, Mr Biggs – who likes to tell people he prefers the traditional newspaper over online publishing before he suspends them from the ceiling by their feet and drowns them. It’s that kind of tomfoolery.
Since 2005’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Fiddy has branched out from the obvious hip-hop self-help debut with mass appeal that he was always bound to make. In Setup, and this year’s Danny Trejo-starring graphic novel adaptation and straight-to-DVD compadre Vengeance, our musclebound manchunk delves back into the world of street violence and organised crime.
Jackson performs admirably considering the material. He wouldn’t be a bad actor given the chance, but spends most of Setup running around like an eager little kid. Why Marvel Studios hasn’t hoicked him into the comic book movie wagon-train as Luke Cage: Powerman is worth a mystery.
From not-on-general-release unknowns to veterans of shunning the silver screen, anyone who remembers VHS is aware that Setup isn’t Willis’ first straight-to-video foray. It’s not his only one this year either, as Catch .44 is heading the same way on the 20th December. A good example of Willis’ ability to successfully surf the wave of his career came in 1998 when, a year after the fantastic Fifth Element baffled yet delighted cinema-goers, Universal Studios Home Video released the decidedly rubbish Willis-starring Mercury Rising.
Not to be confused with Steven Sommers legendary camp-fest action horror Deep Rising released the same year, the – ironically – less mercurial of the Risings was just another entry in the autistic child genius under threat from shadowy figures subgenre. That stage in Willis’ career might’ve been more interesting if he’d skipped the action-hero-helping-kids period or been more comedically Schwarzenegger about the whole shebang, but then we wouldn’t’ve seen any dead people in The Sixth Sense.
Perhaps it’s thanks to gaining his popularity on television in a similar way to one-time-Batman and critics’ darling George Clooney that Willis is just one of those well-known faces who can survive a film or ten not seeing general release? Whatever the reason, when everyone’s favourite Roy Rogers-impersonator turns up on DVD, it’s not always a bad thing. 2009’s sci-fidentity crisis Surrogates and 2008’s Assassination Of A High School President met with modest acclaim. Not so much though for 2007’s Perfect Stranger, only released in American cinemas and on DVD in Britain. A personal favourite is 2005’s Hostage, about an outpouring of emos – the correct collective term – who get a bit too trigger-depressed during a home invasion.
Setup‘s plot is so thin as to be immaterial. It wisely moves at a quick pace to avoid dwelling too much on the formulaic, petty gangland antics, but there’s no time or reason to invest in any of these characters unless you already identify somehow with their street-savvy rage. When the Russians and several million dollars become involved, and then a gung-ho hoodlum acquaintance of Fiddy’s shoots himself in the noggin by accident and ends up in a meat grinder while an implausible cockney rambles about the cranial capacity of the average neanderthal, you’ll wonder if you’re watching the same film you were 20 minutes before.
People walk in and out of scenes to deliver overly dramatic and cliched lines only to walk off again within a few seconds, leaving the recipient of their monologue to stare into space like they were on an episode of General Hospital. Second-time director, long-time stuntman Mike Gunther aims for a Guy Ritchie style with a dash of Tarantino dialogue, but ends up more Danny Dyer guest-starring in Prison Break.
No special features were in evidence on the review disc beyond the bog-standard scene selection. Possibly the kindest words to be said about Setup are that when the subtitles are on and any unnecessarily terrible background music kicks in to hide the fact that nothing’s happening – every scene, basically – the screen displays “Rap music playing” or “Soft rock music playing” in giant letters. This allows for convenient muting depending on your musical preferences.
Setup is a film by angry men for angry men. It won’t affect Willis’ career, but is a sign that Jackson needs to look for higher quality scripts. Phillippe should know better by now. The movie begins with a prison, there’s a lot of beatings, shooting and shivving, and every character calls every other character man or bitch. Watch it while the missus is out, but not when there’s any football on. And try not to hit anyone with the remote.
You can rent or buy Setup at Blockbuster.co.uk.