By: John M Jerva
It almost seems like Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal are the same person. Both actors were heavyweight action stars back in the day, but time has not been kind to a certain extent, and both are now relegated to DTV films that are of the hit or severe miss variety. While Seagal has been known not tin post-production and sometimes on set, Willis has been featured in countless films throughout the past two years where he is advertised heavily in movies where he only appears for minutes. When he does appear, he gives a phone in performance that resembles half of the actor he used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge fan and have been since the 80’s but it seems like his best days are far behind him.
This year alone, Willis has appeared in eleven, count them, eleven films alone and most of them are what you’d expect from the indie action circuit where time and money are limited. Willis shows up more in some than others but when it comes to the action, it’s almost painful to watch as he trudges along. Apex, which came out a few months ago, was the bottom of the barrel for Willis and I can’t tell you how much that movie was sore on the eyes. Just a few weeks back, Willis co-starred in the much better Deadlock which had him playing the villain and squaring off against Starship Trooper’s Patrick Muldoon. While that film still left a lot to be desired, it still had a unique throwback feel to it and Muldoon was solid in it.
Now we have the release of Fortress, which hails from director James Cullen Bressack who also directed Willis in Survive the Game. This film is supposed to be the start of a trilogy and as I write this, the second one is already in post-production. How does it stack up on the Willis-Meter of current films? I will say that once again there’s a lot to be desired here but it also has some fun while giving us a multitude of passable if not forgettable action sequences.
Willis stars as Robert who is a former spy living in a remote retreat for retired spies. He lives out his days like any retired person would living in Florida as he spends his days enjoying the peace and quiet. One particular day sees Robert’s son Paul (Jesse Metcalfe) come to visit. Paul is the head of a big cyber-company that is foreshadowing right there for things to come. Father are son are estranged to say the least as Robert’s former life as a super spy has kept him away for most of Paul’s upbringing but here’s hoping they are able to reconcile.
Unfortunately for Robert and Paul and everyone else at the retreat, once Paul arrives, a team of highly trained mercenaries led by the cunning Balzary (Chad Michael Murray) infiltrate the retirement home for wayward spies and proceed to eliminate everyone in sight. It seems that Balzary is a former acquaintance of Robert’s and he’s pissed at him for reasons I won’t get into. Balzary is on one major mission of revenge and no one’s going to stand in his way.
Wouldn’t you know it though that this retreat comes furnished with a hi-tech underground fortress that protects the inhabitants if danger should come calling. As Balzary and his men wage war, Robert and Paul fight tooth and nail to save the day and put a stop to Balzary’s bloody plan of vengeance which includes getting to the fortress to get what he wants from the father and son team.
Fortress is another Bruce Willis vehicle that will be forgotten about after your initial viewing but while watching it, I’ve seen a lot worse (did I mention Apex?). This one, however, isn’t all that bad and even though Willis is more of a second fiddle like he is most of the time, he still does get to do a little running and gunning with an emphasis on light running. He spends a lot of the running time tied up in a chair like he does in most of his current movies while the co-stars do more of the heavy lifting. In terms of performance, it’s more of the same with Bruce showing a few signs of life but for the most part, it’s more wooden acting from the one-time Hollywood star.
Jesse Metcalfe and Chad Michael Murray, who both have starred with Willis before, are pretty solid in their turns and Murray is clearly having the most fun chewing up the scenery with an over-the-top performance as the evil Balzary. At one point, i was expecting to let out a super villain laugh but sadly it never transpired. Murray has already appeared with Willis two other times in Survive the Night and Survive the Game but in those he was on the same side so here it’s refreshing to see him go over to the dark side. Metcalfe was more action hero in Hard Kill with Willis but here he is more down to earth as the cyber-CEO and son who is thrust into an extraordinary situation. He does get a few moments to shine, and he is always game for these types of roles.
The rest of the cast is just there with former 90210-star Shannon Doherty showing up as Dobbs, one of the military figures who helps run the fortress, but her contribution is meaningless and is only around to serve up a twist in the proceedings that you’ll see coming a mile away. Kelly Greyson stars as Kate, a security guard at the retreat, who teams up with Paul to fight the insurgents and while she does offer some in the way of the physical stuff, she mostly is forgettable as well.
Sean Kanan, who most of you will remember as bad boy Mike Barnes in The Karate Kid Part III, is grossly underused as Vlad one of Blazary’s henchmen. I was expecting to see some form of bad ass fighting from him but sadly I’m still waiting. One of the bright spots in the movie is Ser’Darius Blain who plays Ulysses. He is another one of Balzary’s lethal mercs and while he has some cool stunt play throughout, once again he is unceremoniously dispatched when the time comes. He was one of the most fun aspects of the film but I was expecting more from him from the initial setup.
Now comes the part of the review where I talk about the character of Ken Blain played by Michael Sirow. Blain is another security guard that breaks into action when the fighting starts, and he just comes out of nowhere and starts taking out bad guys with glimpses of lethal accuracy. I was expecting more from him and maybe he will show up in the second film as a bigger player but here he’s another missed opportunity. It’s also weird as he is a stone-cold killer, but he acts like a frat boy going out on a Friday night to get drunk. It’s a definite character that just reeks of Yin-Yang. I’m curious to see what he does in the future if anything at all.
Like I mentioned before, the action is passable but there’s no real major set pieces to speak of. here’s a few beatdowns and shoot outs but nothing that will really register on the action-meter for genre fans. When the action does come, it is handled cleanly, but the stunt work is severely lacking to give it any excitement at all. Willis does get to take out some baddies but unfortunately, he once again is tied up in a chair. It’s a weird trend of this current crop of Willis actioners as it appears he’s too tired to do anything else after a while. Here’s a fun experiment you can do. Watch one of the earlier Die Hard movies and then watch this film and see the staggering differences in the aging star. I know he’s getting older but there’s many middle-aged stars out there still bringing it in the action department. Case in point, Sylvester Stallone is well into his 70’s now but look at what he’s still able to accomplish. On a side note, for a film called Fortress and having most of the premise take place in a hi-tech secret installation, I was expecting so much more to come from that. Another enormous, missed opportunity.
Overall, Fortress is a minor above standard notch in Willis’ filmography and while it does have moments of some nice throwback action, for the most part it’s easily forgettable once again. Bruce does show up a little and Murray and Metcalfe pick up the slack but there’s really nothing to see here. It’s pretty much a time burner on a Saturday night if there’s nothing else available to watch but here’s hoping the subsequent sequels offer a little more to the proceedings. It does end with a small cliffhanger setting up for the next movie. I know I’m asking for it as I continue to watch these movies but I’m still hanging onto some hope Willis is going to gives us one more action extravaganza. I do watch these films so sometimes you won’t have to and with Fortress it’s another example of the trailer was better than the actual movie.