Director: Mike Burns
Writer: Bill Lawrence
There was a time not too long ago when Bruce Willis’s involvement in a film suggested quality, or at the very least a decent budget. However over the past half a dozen years the majority of his filmography has been made up of cheap, forgettable direct to video movies, of which Out of Death seems to be the latest. Why Willis’s career has landed here is puzzling. Although one wouldn’t know it from watching his bored performance here, Willis possesses real star power. Let’s not forget his memorable turns in such modern classics as The Sixth Sense, Pulp Fiction and 12 Monkeys, as well as his star-making turn in the TV show Moonlighting. Out of Death unfortunately makes Hudson Hawk look like Die Hard.
Willis is Jack Harris, a Philadelphia cop who has recently lost his wife to cancer and has come up to his niece’s secluded luxury cabin in the woods to recover. Meanwhile photojournalist Shannon (Jaime King) is visiting the same forest to scatter her father’s ashes and witnesses a drug-related murder committed by one of the local Sheriff’s deputies (Lala Kent). It turns out that Sheriff Hank Rivers himself (Michael Sirow) is also involved in the vaguely sketched drug shenanigans, along with his brother Tom (Tyler Jon Olson). Of course all three of these threads become entwined with what one can only assume the filmmakers were hoping were exciting results.
The lack of any sort of excitement or tension is probably the biggest of all of the problems this film has. We spend more time with the antagonists than the protagonists, but don’t get to know much about any of them other than the thinnest of character traits and the broadest of character clichés. That Sheriff Hank is a villain should come as no surprise to anyone since he has a goatee, slicked back hair, wears nothing but black and is running for Mayor: he might as well be wearing a black eye-mask and twirl a long moustache. Meanwhile Willis’s Jack is apparently grieving for his wife but seems mildly inconvenienced and irritable about being embroiled in crime and corruption when he is supposed to be on his holidays. He performs his dialogue with indifference and as the film progresses he delivers it more and more like a robot whose battery is slowly running down. Most of his handful of scenes are of him by himself or having a conversation with another character in a different shot, very much as though he gave this film shoot maybe three days of his life and then cashed his cheque.
King’s Shannon suffers from self-doubt due to her recently deceased father’s belittling of her and is aiming to use her trip in the woods to prove that she isn’t a quitter. Despite some ham-fisted narration to try and flesh out her character and the fact that there is zero chemistry between her and Willis, we are left wondering who one should be rooting for and why. Shannon admittedly does as much as she can with the little she is given to work with, as does Olson as Deputy Tom whose character is the only one to show any sort of arc or emotional engagement with what’s happening around him. Everyone else in the cast is either phoning in their performance (Willis), grossly miscast (Kent) or trying far too hard (Sirow).
Despite being told through dialogue and stock footage of a huge forest that the action takes place in a vast, inhospitable landscape, the film feels extremely small-scale. Characters being constantly filmed from low angles to avoid showing too much background, as well as wide shots generally being in open areas or on well-worn tracks suggest that this may have actually been filmed in Center Parcs. And for such a supposedly massive forest, characters very quickly and conveniently run into each other, as if they were all just rummaging around the bushes in the local park. We are never told exactly where the action takes place, but judging from the look of at least three of the female cast, wherever it is has no shortage of collagen and botox.
The influence of the Coen brothers is evident but Bill Lawrence’s script is light on action and heavy on spelled out exposition and unnatural dialogue. Mike Burns’ direction is at least competent and he generally avoids trying to be too showy, although one incongruous special effects scene has the camera enter the chamber of a gun and then be chased by a bullet as it enters someone’s head. Sadly the effects budget is so low that the talking cartoon bullets in Who Framed Roger Rabbit looked more realistic.
The title of the film presumably comes from Willis and King’s characters both becoming stronger out of the deaths of their loved ones. However the film might as well be called ‘Out of Milk’: Bruce going to the supermarket for a carton of moo juice would have almost certainly made for a more exciting film.
Out Of Death will be available on Digital Download from 2nd August (pre-order here) & DVD from 4th October