By: John M Jerva
Devon Sawa is one of my favorite actors working in the industry today. The versatile actor has been around for years and nowadays, he’s one actor that can really bring some depth to a film whether it be action or other genres. I first really took to Sawa after watching his stint on the cool CW action series Nikita and he definitely radiated some serious action cred with his role on that show. Sawa can play hero, villain or anti-hero without blinking and he is one of the most underrated actors in films hands down.
Sawa is back this Friday with a new crime-thriller which has the awesome sounding name of Gasoline Alley, and the movie brings out the 80’s crime film vibe complete with some nice 50’s sounding music for its score. Sawa stars along with Luke Wilson and Bruce Willis in a story that takes place in the seedy underbelly cesspool of Hollywood and L.A. The thriller which hails from director Edward Drake is a definite must watch and mostly for Sawa’s performance as he plays a reformed ex-con named Jimmy Jayne (a fine name indeed).
Now, it’s important to note that I will be going into spoiler territory for this review so if you haven’t watched it yet then stop reading.
Jayne is trying to get his life back together after he was imprisoned for beating a man almost to death but now, he runs a tattoo parlor where he spends his days tattting up customers. It’s a modest life compared to what Jayne has experienced but from the onset, we know he’s not a man to be messed with even though he mixes in a little sympathy with his character.
Unfortunately, someone does mess with Jimmy as he’s framed for the triple homicide of unfortunate women who were noted for working for some very unscrupulous people to put it mildly. The bad thing for Jimmy, he was seen talking to one of the girls who was named Star and a cigarette lighter with his shop’s name of Gasoline Alley was left at the crime scene. The plot thickens.
Enter detectives Freeman (Bruce Willis) and Vargas (Luke Wilson) who are on the case and, of course, they see poor old Jimmy in their crosshairs because of all the evidence that is leading to him. Jayne doesn’t take any bullying lying down, so he proceeds to start his own investigation to the dismay of our stalwart detectives. Jayne is hellbent on clearing his name and to find those responsible for framing him as he navigates the darker side of L.A. and God help those that are responsible and that get in his way.
Now it’s important to note that Gasoline Alley was helmed by Edward Drake who is responsible for the lowly Bruce Willis pics Cosmic Sin, Apex and most recently American Siege. Unfortunately, people are going to see that Drake and Willis are attached to this film and will dismiss it right away because of the aforementioned other films the two have down together. While those movies left a lot to be desired, I’m here today to say that Gasoline Alley deserves not to be affiliated with those other pics as it is a solid crime thriller which radiates some serious throwback vibes.
The film works primarily because Sawa shoulders the entire movie and makes it the watchable film that it is. Sawa is magnetic as Jimmy Jayne and his journey is one you will want to take if you’re into these types of flicks. Sawa carries his role with a cocky swagger, and it is his performance that immerses the viewer into this harsh world where innocent people are chewed up and spit out. Sawa works the camera and generates the electricity needed for the film and he proves once again that he is one of the most legit leading men in film today. Sawa’s performance is tough and sincere all at the same time and you want to root for him to find the people that are involved in this vast conspiracy.
In the advertising and trailer, of course, Willis and Wilson are front and center as they are well known in the industry and Wilson is solid here as the jaded and sarcastic detective named Vargas who starts to realize that there’s more to Jayne then meets the eye. Wilson actually has a great deal of screen time, and he certainly helps the narrative along as he is always likable, and he’s always been a solid performer in films whether it be bigger Hollywood productions or indie fair.
Now Bruce Willis is the Bruce Willis we’ve been seeing for the last ten years as he’s heavy in the advertising but hardly in the movie. Willis is only on camera for a few minutes here and there and yes, he looks like he’s sleepwalking through his lines but there is a sad reason for that unfortunately. I’m not going to radiate any negative vibes towards Willis anymore, and I commend him for trying to work through his issues. I don’t want viewers to be scared away from Gasoline Alley because he doesn’t ruin it as Sawa, and Wilson really are the stars of the movie, and they do one admirable job with it and make it the worth a watch film that it is. Willis is more involved especially at the end. That’s all I’ll say on that subject.
The first two thirds of the movie are a taut and tight slow burn as Jayne proceeds to scour the city in hopes that he will find the bad guys that are pulling the strings. Even though there’s no action yet, except for a nice car chase between Jayne in his Chevy SS and a mysterious Land Rover, the drama and Sawa carry the audience to the initial payoff at the end because we want to see how this all ends. At least I did.
Now the conspiracy all comes to a head in the last twenty minutes as Jayne finds out that it is Freeman who is involved, and the conspiracy is big as it contains not only drugs but human trafficking as well. Now I did figure out early on that Freeman was in on it, but I wasn’t turned off from the rest of the movie. Drake and company do tip their hand a little when Jayne spots Freeman at one of the less than friendly places that he visits during his investigation, but I was fine with it and was pleasantly surprised that Willis was more important to the plot that we were initially led to believe.
The last twenty or so minutes is where the action cranks up and fans will be satisfied as Sawa turns one man army and takes out the preverbal trash with flair. We get a nice throwdown between Jayne and a crooked cop sent to eliminate him and the two tussle in Jayne’s establishment. The scene is quick and brutal with the choreography sticking to knock down, drag out beats of violence and it’s a nice warm up for the finale that is coming.
The climax is solid as Jayne goes in guns blazing as he tracks down Freeman and his posse which leads to bullets flying in an underground tunnel. The chaos is nicely punctuated by the lighting which flickers, and it gives the scene a real sense of dread and almost emulates a horror movie. Sawa rocks it as he opens fire with an assault rifle while he has someone else’s blood on his face and a lit cigarette in his mouth. It’s just simply one bad ass look, and it puts the icing on the cake of Sawa’s anti-establishment and anti-hero portrayal of Jayne. He’s essentially a bad good guy and a very dangerous one when he becomes a caged tiger looking to get free.
Overall, Gasoline Alley is definitely one of Drake’s best directorial efforts and the film scores primarily due to Sawa and his performance as Jayne. I know, I’ve been talking him up a lot in this review, but the man just deserves it and deserves to be in more of these films as he is a solid headliner who can carry a film. Willis is per usual, but Wilson also shines in his low-key stint as Vargas, and I would have liked to see him and Sawa together more as they had some good chemistry together.
The action is sparce but effective and the film oozes an 80’s crime noir vibe with a nice slow burn touch to the proceedings. Don’t be turned off by the fact that this film comes from the director of Apex and American Siege because here Drake really crafts a solid adult tale of murder, deceit and retribution that really captures the ugly world these people live in. Even though the aforementioned Edward Drake films were bottom of the barrel, and that’s putting it lightly, Gasoline Alley is in a much larger league and is a satisfying watch.
I knew from watching the trailer that this movie would be different, and I was right. Gasoline Alley is as advertised, and it delivers pretty much everything that audiences will want as you know what type of movie this is. It is dark, ugly and unapologetic but that’s it’s charm so give it a chance and I think you’ll agree.