It has been a bit of a running joke that Bruce Willis has all but checked out. Not from acting, but from caring. Much like Nicolas Cage, Willis works feverishly, starring in multiple films every year that go straight to DVD, on-demand or streaming services. Unlike Cage, who puts every ounce of passion into each project no matter how horrible it ends up being, Willis tends to provide laid-back, tired performances that hint at his only being there for the paycheck.
This tendency for laziness doesn’t stop at actors. It’s also found in filmmakers, directors and of course writers. Just like an actors performance, if the writing is lazy, it can upset you, aggravate you. Not because the film was bad or you wasted a couple of hours on predictable, unimaginative drivel, but because you know there’s more there that could have been done and that there are plenty of people willing to work much harder to create a great product, despite whether or not it ultimately turns out a horrible mess. That’s what I see in Willis’s new film, Cosmic Sin, where it doesn’t seem anyone involved cared much about creating anything but a passable science-fiction facsimile.
At no point in Sin‘s short run time does the film ever do anything to even pretend it’s original. I take that back; they do make some attempts to be original, but it all fails, mainly because of a breakdown in the writing process that provides a meandering plot and characters that are so stock and bland, there’s hardly anything to connect to. At times, the film even seems to have chunks of missing material that doesn’t seem to have ever been there (instead of naively winding up on the cutting room floor). It’s because of this characters say and do things that don’t add up or go absolutely nowhere, and what should be dramatically tense moments that would normally strike an emotional cord with viewers fall flat because we have no reason to care about the underdeveloped relationships.
If Willis seems a bit out of tune with the rest of the film, it might be because the man gets second billing to Frank Grillo, even though Grillo goes MIA for what seems like the entirety of the second act. Meanwhile, Willis does try at least to show some interest in what’s happening as James Ford (even the names aren’t original!), an ex-military man who was stripped of his rank and service after obliterating a world against orders. Apparently, he’s very important as Grillo’s military leader, General Ryle, immediately requests his presence when a first contact with a new species goes awry. However, after a deadly firefight ensues at the base where the alien species have infiltrated human bodies, Ford’s presence is immediately questioned — by Ryle.
There are plenty of contradictions and pointless plot maneuvers like this that occur throughout the movie. For example, upon arrival at the planet for which the first contact occurred, Ford and Ryle get separated from the rest of their team. Why? Dramatic tension? For different people to gather different information that will lead to them banding together in the third act to defeat the evil? No. None of that. In actuality, there really isn’t a reason for them to be split up at all as the crew eventually find one another or end up in the same place within ten minutes of being separated. It may not be a big deal, but for me, it simply felt unnecessary in the full scope of what’s happening.
Imagination also seems to have gone out the window. The film takes place in the twenty-sixth century, and yet the technology doesn’t feel at all advanced enough. I understand that we can’t really predict what will happen in the future, but even the original Star Trek series had more ingenuity with its limited availability of effects. With what we are able to do now, you’d expect there to be some great strides in technology, especially since the majority of the effects used in the film were on the higher end of the effects department. Yet, most of the characters say and do things that are very 21st century, and, other than a couple of decent things (such as being able to transport to another planet light years away in an instant) are very modern to today’s world and don’t feel futuristic enough for the time period. Had this been set in the 22nd century, maybe; but the 26th? I don’t buy it.
Going beyond that, everything technological feels like a retread of something that has come before. The soldier’s gear feels like rejected concepts from Edge of Tomorrow, the evil aliens build a star gate, er, space wheel to travel long distances, and even the transport the humans use to get to the planet has been done before in Galaxy Quest. The most ingenuity in the film is the concept behind the title, and even that is a bit confusing on its face. Even one of the movie’s posters was all but stolen from the official poster for Live Free or Die Hard. What does that tell you?
Suffice it to say, Willis, Grillo and the rest of the cast — who aren’t even worth talking about as they are all so bland, and in some cases, completely irrelevant — weren’t given a whole lot to chew on. It’s hard to argue that the material was a train wreck from the minute the writers slapped on THE END; why someone of Willis’s caliber (and even Grillo’s caliber for that matter) would sign on for somthing like this is a mystery we may never know. But hey, at least Willis’s weary performance fits in with the plot of Cosmic Sin, which is itself a sin to the writing process. At least the effects were good!
My Grade: D+
There’s an interesting story hidden under all of the debauchery in Last Call, a film that spends way too much time on a B-story involving the lead character’s best friends playing a sex game and not enough time on the conflicts between a man (Jeremy Piven) who comes back to help the community he grew up in only to watch that community be torn down by the very people that pay his salary. B
Next week, new movies include Nobody, The Seventh Day and A Week Away (Netflix). If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.