Acts of Violence is for people who like Death Wish and First Blood, but find the stories in those movies too subtle and the characters too emotionally complex. Writer Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto and director Brett Donowho utilize so many tropes in the action/drama formula that it’s impossible not to wonder if you’re watching an unbilled parody. It is a dull, uninspired forgery of a movie that causes the mind to wander due to ennui. Nothing happens in the climax that isn’t telegraphed in the first act, making the time in between best used for maintenance duty on one’s social media accounts.

The story concerns the MacGregor boys. They are—in order of age—Deklan (Cole Hauser), Brandon (Shawn Ashmore) and Roman (Ashton Holmes) and—in order of archetype—the grizzled loner, the stable force and the naïf. Deklan and Brandon have been to war while gentle Roman has stayed home, working as a medic in Pittsburgh. Roman will soon marry his childhood sweetheart, Mia (Melissa Bolona), a hard as nails orphan the MacGregor clan took a shine to when she was just a child. It’s all about family for the MacGregors, though Deklan, his self-medication and his PTSD are straining everyone. That is until the unthinkable happens.

Bruce Willis isn’t unthinkable but seems out of place for a film of this size. He plays Detective I’m-getting-too-old-for-this-shit-the-system-keeps-tying-my-hands James Avery, the last good cop in Pittsburgh, who is trying to build a case against local crime boss Max Livingston (Mike Epps). Livingston runs everything, but drugs and human trafficking are his primary veins of income. His two main henchmen, Vince (Sean Brosnan) and Frank (Rotimi), are adept at finding and abducting fragile young women and forcing them into prostitution. They happen upon Mia’s bachelorette party and make a move on the bride-to-be. After Mia soundly rejects them, they follow her to an alley and ply their craft: a bad choice that sends the MacGregors into action. It’s them against the bad guys, a personal war quietly sanctioned by Detective Avery.

Acts of Violence is devoid of many of the qualities that make a movie recommendable, such as a cohesive plot, competent visual direction, crisp dialogue or even the occasional laugh. It does have a good cast and they do laudable work with the material here. As Deklan, Hauser exhibits the kind of intensity endemic of the broken warrior. All his rage and energy is as adrift as his life until Mia’s kidnapping. Once there’s a mission, he is hard and sharp. Ashmore plays Brandon as the one smart enough not to lose himself in combat. He is stable, grounded and carries the mark of dead meat from his opening dialogue. Holmes is still playing young no matter how old he gets. A History of Violence was a long time ago and he deserves a role that will highlight his maturity as an actor. It is hard to judge the work of Bolona because Mia isn’t given much more to do than exert toughness, which she does well enough. They are all likeable presences onscreen and this isn’t exactly the venue to display one’s range.

Of the two most famous performers, Epps chews some scenery as Max Livingston in his limited screen time, providing the film a little boost every time he appears. Willis never quite phones it in as Detective Avery but keeps his movie star magnetism set to its lowest gear. He seems distracted, like he wants to be certain that his fee for this movie will pay for the mortgage on some island he owns.

Big budget movies get rapped for playing things safe. Whether superheroes or space fantasy, they trade in on the expected while distracting the audience with some new glitz and pizzazz. It’s the safe way to guarantee some return on investment. Acts of Violence is a reminder that this strategy finds its way to all levels of filmmaking. But without something new to offer, all that is left is the formula. And, in this case, that formula needs to be retired.

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One Comment

  1. Arthur G.

    February 2, 2019 at 6:18 am

    I thought the movie was pretty good. It was not the best movie but it was a decent movie with a storyline. It had some familiar faces and names. The storyline was good. The movie was not slow or confusing either.


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