Bruce Willis‘ recent career choices are fascinating. By all accounts he’s not hurting for money, but the past five years or so have seen him become a regular on the direct-to-video shelf suggesting that he simply likes to work. The flip-side, though, is the reality that his supporting performances in films like The Prince (2014), Extraction (2015), Precious Cargo (2016), and First Kill (2017) can be described as flat, lifeless, and disinterested at best. 2018’s already seen another example — no, not Death Wish, his first leading role in a wide release since 2013’s RED 2 — and like Acts of Violence, his latest effort is destined to limp its way in and out of audience awareness.
The bigger sin this time is that he’s taking Frank Grillo with him.
Jacob (Grillo) is a bank manager under stress. He has a wife Christina (Olivia Culpo) and daughter Sophia (Natalie Sophie Butler) to provide for, but managing the girl’s diabetes is a squeeze on their finances. So far so relatable, but then he mentions that things are so bad they may have to let the gardener and/or housekeeper go. Huh. Life comes at you fast, though, and his work day is interrupted by an armed robber named Gabriel (Johnathon Schaech) who leaves a guard dead and Jacob traumatized. He berates himself over beers with his ex-cop neighbor James (Willis) for not doing more, but as they talk James is reminded of old cases. One thing leads to another, as they do, and soon Jacob is stealing the stolen money from Gabriel leading the criminal to target the banker’s family as leverage.
Reprisal has the core of an interesting character idea at its heart in that Jacob’s call to action is fueled as much by PTSD as by his financial woes, but even with that increased desire he’s shown to be somewhat inadequate as an action hero. To that end the casting of Grillo in the role is intriguing as his late career resurgence has been built on playing ass-kickers on various sides of the moral divide from Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) to The Purge: Anarchy (2014). But despite the setup, Bryce Hammons’ script does little with the conceit, and Grillo’s performance follows suit. He’s lacking the engagement he’s shown previously, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of acting chops as he’s proven himself in smaller, less action-focused roles including The Grey (2011) and Warrior (2011).
And not for nothing, but on the subject of his casting it’s worth noting that the 53-year-old actor is playing husband to a 26-year-old, and together they’re playing parents to a 10-year-old. That’s bad math Hollywood. It causes a brief moment of confusion in their first scene together as your eyes and mind think they’re both playing Grillo’s daughters until your ears hear otherwise.
Willis once again employs his patented “fully asleep” performance-style that was previously relegated strictly to DTV roles but that he now applies with abandon, and Schaech is no better. To be clear, they’ve all been far better, but the energy level here is a flat-line, and that carries over to the action sequences, script, and Brian A. Miller’s direction. Daughter has diabetes? Wonder if that will come back as a dramatic moment. Action scene? Start shaking the camera. We also get a montage showing Grillo and Willis standing in front of white board as days change and shirts change and they point at maps and yammer on unintelligibly. And don’t get me started on that “Six months later” ending. Woof.
The promise of the story, cast, and characters is almost immediately tossed out the window. Jacob has no real arc, Gabriel has even less, and James gets an inexplicable hero moment for no good reason other than Willis probably asked for one.
Reprisal is a waste of talented performers, period, and while his name sells overseas markets it shouldn’t surprise viewers of previous Willis-starring DTV fare that almost the entirety of his scenes are in a single location. He doesn’t leave the house until the third act when he arrives to help Grillo’s frazzled dad, but even then the two actors appear to have been on-set on different days. “These people have been through enough,” he says in the final minutes, and you can’t help but think he’s talking about the audience.