by Pat Fox
There is a terrible tendency to call crime films that have a slightly unusual structure Tarantino-esque or inspired. What they really mean is that they are trying to be like Pulp Fiction (1994). Usually you get this with films that are meant to have cool dialogue and random plots, though they all just end up being horribly obnoxious films. Pulp Fiction didn’t just have cool dialogue, it had natural dialogue; it didn’t have a random plot full of non sequiturs, it had a Rashomon plot, the course of a few days in L.A. told from the point of view of different characters. What I’m trying to say is if you want to make a “Taraninto” inspired film, at least try to use Pulp Fiction as your benchmark.
Anyway here’s L.A. Vengeance (2017) also known as Once Upon a Time In Venice in the U.S, out now on DVD/Blu-Ray, a comedy action film that serves as another entry into the long line of horribly obnoxious films trying to be Pulp Fiction.
Set in Venice Beach L.A., Steve Ford (Bruce Willis) is meant to be a loveable rogue, Private Investigator and man child, adored by all in Venice even when he’s quite clearly breaking the law or their stuff. After several plot threads dangle loosely through the film, the story finally grabs one about half way through when Steve has to do a job for local drug dealer Spyder (Jason Momoa) in order for Steve to retrieve his dog, because since John Wick (2014) all action movies have to have a dog in the plot. It’s the law or something. Steve is aided by his best friend Dave (John Goodman) and his assistant John (Thomas Middleditch) who provides a running negative-hipster voice over commentary to the whole thing.
This is less a film and more a Frankenstein’s Monster created by a committee that decided to take several popular and original films such as the above mentioned Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski (1998) and Pineapple Express (2008), chop them up and stich them all together. And just like Frankenstein’s Monster it becomes lost, confused and eventually turns violent towards the world that shuns it. L.A. Vengeance flips tone and style from Raunchy Teen Comedy to Dramedy to Crime Caper; this film barely has a plot until the midway point with the aforementioned dognapping and even then it handles this in a loose spiralling way. There are at least 7 to 8 plotlines meandering their way throughout the course of the film, one of which results in seeing Bruce Willis skateboarding naked through Venice Beach. So thanks to this films inability to come up with tone and plot I now know what Willis’s taint looks like. The plot is just a series of random actions with little to link them together or provide any narrative form. We could go down the avant-garde, life-is-a-series-of-arbitrary-events but I think the nude skateboarding taint scene has shot that one down. This is not how you build a story, this is not how a five year old on an endorphin crash would build a story. This happens then this happens then this happens then roll credits. Actions seem to lack consequences in L.A. Vengeance as one is able to rob another drug gang, without masks and providing them with your real name, and nothing seems to come from it save a closing joke.
This film is not funny, it’s smug. Characters do not swap dialogue, they swap witticism and paltry one liners that are meant to pass as human language. There is no character arc, no change or development or growth; L.A. Vengeance doesn’t even attempt to have its characters undergo any form of change, instead presenting them as wooden as shop mannequins that have been brought to life by some Aztec curse. Easy tip, if you want us to engage with your characters in any way, shape or form, have them develop an arc of some sort, the way us carbon based life forms do. Even its attempts at action are lacklustre and weak; going by the posters this should be a high octane run and gun affair. Despite the hype for gun play and over the top hidden arsenal of weapons ripped straight out of an 80’s action film we are, in fact, treated to a three minute scene of a gun fight, two on foot chases and the already mentioned nude skateboarding scene. I’m not sure if it’s parodying Action films or if they got bored and called it a day.
The DVD comes with a Trailer, and a 16 minute Making Off/Behind the Scenes featurette were the cast tell with straight faces how fun it was to make this movie and how cool this film is, which makes me believe the director is holding members of their family as hostages.
The full cast of the film include some excellent actors yet it only serves to reaffirm the old adage, that you can’t polish a turd. Take the money you would have spent on this and do something more worthwhile with it, like throwing it into a burning caravan.
Dir: Mark Cullen
Scr: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Thomas Middleditch
Prd: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen, Nicolas Chartier, Zev Foreman, Laura Ford
DOP: Amir Mokri
Music: Jeff Cardoni
Runtime: 90 minutes