FILM REVIEW: ACTS OF VIOLENCE Exhibits A Wanton Adulation of Mayhem
Bruce Willis is back in familiar territory in the shoot ‘em up, knock ‘em down action thriller Acts of Violence. The film, about the bloody encounters that follow the kidnapping Roman’s (Ashton Holmes) girlfriend, is a passing of the torch of sorts for the famed action actor. He plays the staid cop, Detective James Avery, hamstrung by his position from taking actions against the gangsters into his own hands. It is not familiar territory for the star, and the film undoubtedly belongs to its other, more virile actors, including Holmes but principally X-Men star Shawn Ashmore as his brother Brandon and Cole Hauser as the third brother and lead revenge-seeker.
But beyond the interesting generational shift that the movie represents, there is not much there to please except the most devoted lovers of fetishized and unnecessary violence. It devolves into a frenzy of shooting and killing, exhibiting the worst kind of bloodlust that Hollywood has for the most part currently rejected. Worst, it does so suffused with an antiquated exultation of the good old boys club, of the notion that only those with a penchant for guns, the military, or revenge, are fit enough to survive. Acts of Violence’s view of the world may be a threat that feels all too real to many in the anxious America of the 2010s. But it is, mercifully, actually a rare occurrence.
Roman’s girlfriend and her pals go out for a night in the town, somewhere in the heartland of the 2016 renaissance of our worst fears, Ohio. There, they encounter a pair of thugs whose advances are unwelcome but who take revenge on the girls by body-snatching them and placing them into the stream of a human trafficking commerce ring. Distraught upon learning of the tragedy, Roman recurs to the local police, including Willis’ Detective Avery and his sexy partner Detective Baker, an underutilized Sophia Bush.
But Roman’s brothers Brandon and Deklan know better. They are both combat veterans and trust no one but themselves to solve the world’s problems, most notably if they involve protecting women. And they know, somehow (the movie never says), that the kidnapping involves a dangerous mob ring which they will have to face down with semiautomatic weapons and loaded knuckles. Who knew they were teaching that in military finishing school these days?
Brushing aside Avery and his brand of slow justice (an allegory perhaps lost on Willis), Deklan and Brandon quickly train Roman in the ways of the bullet and urge upon him that they will have to fight ruthless criminals to get his girl back. Again, how they know this, is not clear.
What follows is a mostly pointless exercise, a back and forth of shooting and killing between the band of brothers (with occasional help from Avery and Baker), and the baddies, who have a limitless supply of henchmen at their disposal and whose every act is more grotesque than the last.
I have nothing against action movies per se. Some of the most entertaining ones of late have included the John Wick series and even the latest Die Hard offerings. But Acts of Violence, as it were, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is not just a violent thriller, it carries a distinctive message, one which it completely fails to justify from inception. It is only those willing to senselessly risk their lives (and, spoilers, idiotically lose two loved ones to save one) that will inherit the Earth. Violence and weapons are the way of the future. It is a questionable viewpoint and one which director Brett Donowho scarcely bothers to justify.
It may very well be, of course, that Acts of Violence has a small niche audience that still reveres its unabashed and apologetic, if mostly pointless style. But, much like the crime ring’s efforts (somehow) against three wily battles (or perhaps much like Bruce Willis’ moment in the sun), the film’s efforts are a losing battle. Nostalgia be as it may, the days of this type of film are numbered.