by: John M Jerva
Nowadays when one sees Bruce Willis’ name attached to a project, certain negative preconceptions immediately come to mind. Willis will sleepwalk through the movie. Willis will only be in the movie for an extended cameo. The glory days of Willis are long gone. These and many other feelings flood social media when a Bruce Willis DTV vehicle comes out or is announced and it is virtually unavoidable at this point. While it is true that Willis is usually only in a movie for a brief time or when he is in the movie, he sleepwalks through his performance, there are a few titles that are watchable. For every Apex, we have Acts of Violence. I for one have been a fan of Mr. Willis since his debut in Die Hard and it is painful at times to see him in some of these films that seem to come out every other week. Is he showing up for a paycheck? Probably but there are some times when Willis does radiate some of the good old John McClane persona and when he does, it’s a sight for sore eyes.
This past Friday saw the release of his latest by the numbers actioner which is titled Deadlock. The film was called Reactor at one time but for whatever reason, the powers that be thought this title would warrant more views from fans. Is Deadlock a return to form for the one time Hollywood A lister? The answer to that question is no…and sort of at the same time. In this film which throws it back to the DTV action days of the 90’s, Willis switches it up and this time he’s playing the bad guy this time around. It’s a definite selling point here as Willis has tried to stay true to his heroic nature of old in most of these films that have been flooding the shelves at your local Wal-Mart. This time around, Willis goes for broke and I can honestly say that he is in the film a great deal and when he is, it looks like he’s actually trying to dish out a menacing performance. If you go into Deadlock with the knowledge that he still won’t do that much, then you might have a somewhat good time with the pic that resembles something that Don “The Dragon” Wilson would have starred in back in the day. In fact, Wilson did star in a movie similar to this which was called Terminal Rush.
Deadlock sees Willis starring as Ron Whitlock who has just discovered that one son has been killed and another one arrested in a botched police raid on a house. Unfortunately for the residents of this small Georgia town, Whitlock is rather unstable and when the local authorities come to deliver the bad news to him, he proceeds to put bullets into them. Whitlock then assembles a crew of mercenaries to take over a dam/power plant and takes the employees hostage along with a group of students on a field trip. Whitlock wants to make all that were involved with his son’s death pay and he doesn’t care if he has to kill innocent civilians to do so by opening up the flood gates and releasing a flood on the unsuspecting town.
Now this is a 90’s style throwback actioner so you know what that means. That’s right, there’s an employee present that just happens to be a former Army Ranger. His name is Mack Karr and he’s played by Starship Troopers alum Patrick Muldoon. In true Die Hard fashion, Mack is missed when all the other employees are rounded up and he proceeds to dust off his particular skill set to save the town from certain doom and put a stop to Whitlock’s murderous plan before all is lost. This all comes in the form of countless rounds of ammo spent and a few beatdowns to liven things up for genre fans looking for a little entertainment.
Now the charm of a movie like Deadlock comes in the fact that it is like a film that you would have rented at your local Blockbuster back when and because of this, there is a certain amount of bloody charm that comes with it and fittingly enough if I didn’t enjoy the movie for what it was and that’s a 90 plus minute diversion from the realities of life. Make no mistake. This will probably be a movie that you won’t remember the next day but while watching it, you’ll revel in the mindless and numerous action set pieces that fill the running time from beginning to end. I wanted to see an action flick that knew what kind of movie that it was and that’s exactly what I got.
One of the biggest reasons for this more positive than negative review for Deadlock is the fact that Muldoon plays a very likeable lead in Mack Karr. He’s the kind of character that you always see in these types of action films. The down and out former special forces soldier who thought his best days were behind him but because of extraordinary circumstances, he’s able to regain that former glory and do what he must to save the day and the town. Muldoon at one time was vying to become a DTV action star with films like Chain Of Command, Black Cat Run, Arrival II and Red Team but he never quite reached those lofty heights that others did during that time period. I still feel that Muldoon has a certain charisma and everyman kind of persona and here he plays it on his sleeve to full effect. It also helps that Muldoon does a more than adequate job in the physical action department and carries the film on his shoulders.
On the other hand, Willis is in the movie for the most part and even though he’s given little to do once again as Ron Whitlock, he still brings an unbalanced fear factor to the role. Willis shows a lot more personality here than he has in the past and I felt he was more than feasible as the antagonist this time around. Maybe Willis should play more of these roles as he gets the chance to sink his teeth into the subject matter a little more. It was definitely refreshing to see him snarl as he blasts away at those he felt were responsible for his son’s death. One unsettling scene even has Whitlock emptying his gun into a cop while the man’s pregnant wife watches in horror. Now that’s nasty. I feel that Willis’ best days are behind him and here he comes off as wooden like he has recently but there is a little something left in the tank and here he plays the role of villain with passing results.
Co-starring in the movie are Matthew Marsden (Black Hawk Down) and Johnny Messner (Tears of the Sun). Both actors are favorites of mine but unfortunately here they are given little to do. Marsden stars as a comrade of Muldoon’s who turns out to be playing for the wrong team. I was expecting a nice little throwdown between the two but while this is teased, we are unfortunately disappointed in the outcome. Messner, who I thought at one time could have been a great action star, is delegated to a minor villain role as well and even though it was nice to see him in the film, I again wanted to see him do more.
Director Jared Cohn certainly does what he can with the limited budget and shooting time and he crafts a movie that doesn’t drag in the least as there are constant shoot outs and fights every couple of minutes. Cohn directed one of my favorite indie action/horror films in The Horde so he’s always been on my radar and here he delivers an action movie that serves up the desired amount of guilty pleasure entertainment. Cohn is a very talented action director that knows how to shoot the action and in today’s era of shaky cam and quick edits, he doesn’t shy away from letting the audience see the mayhem on the screen.
Like I said, there’s plenty of action scenes to be had and if you can get past the CGI effects that accompany this one like most indie action pics that feature a lot of guns and ammunition spent then you should walk away from Deadlock feeling like you got what you were looking for. Muldoon looks like he’s having a blast reliving the days of old and he is able to carry the sequences of mayhem with the amount of bravado that’s needed for this type of film. There’s a heavy body count that will satisfy genre fans looking for their next fix and even though the climax left me wanting a little more, I still had fun with the carnage on display throughout most of the movie.
I did find it funny that Bruce Willis plays the Hans Gruber to Muldoon’s John McClane as Willis is the one that set the standard for these types of action films where our hero must battle a rampaging evil in a single location. It’s a definite wink to the audience to see this and I think Willis gets it and is radiating a little fun in his performance as well. If he can’t be McClane anymore then dammit he might as well be the bad guy in these types of action films.
Overall, if you’re not a fan of present day Bruce Willis then Deadlock will certainly not win you over. He does show up for the most part and seems to be having a little fun with his scenes but it’s Patrick Muldoon who shakes off the rust and carries the film in the action hero department. There’s enough action and violence to satisfy the masses and if you go in with your expectation meter set low then you will enjoy what it has to offer. After all, I wanted to see a one man army run a gauntlet of trained mercs and that’s exactly what I got. There’s bullets and beatdowns galore so just shut your brain off and enjoy the 90’s style thrills that it delivers.