By: John M Jerva
The other day, I put out a review of the decent 2018 DTV action-thriller Acts of Violence which starred Cole Hauser and Bruce Willis in a sordid tale of ex-military professionals going head-to-head with a ruthless human trafficking ring. The movie was solid for a low budgeted affair and mostly due to the strong performances of the cast which included a strong turn out from Willis himself.
In light of the news of Willis’ health issues, I thought I would go back and review some of his more recent output as well as his action classics from the 80’s and 90’s. Willis is truly one of the last, great movie stars and now that he’s retired, I’m afraid we will never get another boisterous, larger than life actor like he was back in his prime. If you aren’t expecting Die Hard, then you might enjoy this next offering I’m coming at you with. Don’t be scared off by the fact that a lot of Willis’ films that he’s been involved with in the last few years has been subpar at best.
The latest review on my plate is the recently released Heat inspired action-thriller A Day to Die from director Wes Miller and just like the aforementioned Acts of Violence, Willis is again surrounded by a solid and prime cast that this time includes Kevin Dillon and the one and only Frank Grillo. It seems just like Steven Seagal, the filmmakers know to put Willis in a film with a support team that will carry the load. Willis has only filmed for a day or two on these recent offerings so again, he is here as more of an extended cameo.
A Day to Die sees Kevin Dillon starring as an elite special ops agent who is part of a covert team that handles off the books missions when something or someone has to go away efficiently, quickly and with extreme prejudice. As the movie opens up, Dillon’s character of Connor Connelly is on one of these types of assignments with his squad that includes Brice Mason who is played per usual by a bad ass Frank Grillo. Unfortunately, the mission goes severally awry in a hurry and people get killed. After the aftermath of said failed op, Connor goes off the reservation and on his own.
Fast forward to present day, and Mr. Connolly is now employed as a parole officer which is a far cry from his elite black op’s days. He does have a decent life and is married to his wife Candice (Brooke Butler) who is expecting their first child, so he is more than happy with his new situation and has put his past in the rearview mirror. Things don’t stay status quo for long as one day, Connor must rescue a parolee who is being chased by a nefarious looking individual and during the altercation, Connolly kills the man in self-defense. You should know what’s coming next.
Yep, you guessed it. Bad news is the theme of the day for Connor in that the man he waxed is a henchman for a ruthless crime boss named Tyrone Pettis, played with steely eyed and brutal proficiency by Leon of the 80’s crime thriller Band of the Hand. In retaliation, Tyrone kidnaps Candice and gives Connor one hell of an ultimatum. Get his hands on a cool $2 million dollars in 24 hours or his wife is going to be six feet under. To make matters worse, the city is basically run by corrupt police chief Alston (Willis) who is in cahoots with Tyrone, so this is another thorn in Connor’s side as our reluctant hero has tracer fire coming from all angles.
With nowhere left to turn, Connor assembles his old unit along with Brice and his brother Tim (Gianni Capaldi) to rob, kill and carve a path through the criminal underworld in order to get the money to rescue his wife. Once again, just like in Acts of Violence, our anti-heroes must break laws for the right reasons. These are not bad men but just desperate ones doing what they need to do to help out one of their own. It doesn’t change the fact that they turn the city into their own personal Battlezone in order to do it. Bullets fly and evil men die before the end credits roll.
It’s important to note that many of these small budget, direct to video actioners have essentially a few weeks to shoot for principal photography. I’m pretty much an expert at this point in that I can pick out the decent ones from the bottom of the barrel and even if they are not worth mentioning, they are still made by hard working people who put their hearts and souls into what they are doing. If you’re expecting HEAT, then move one because obviously this film doesn’t have the resources or time to do that.
What Miller does with A Day to Die is craft a decent and serviceable action yarn and even thought the plot is full of holes and cliches, the characters are solid enough and there’s enough hardcore R rated action sequences to satisfy the masses during a weekend viewing. Dillon is more than capable in the lead role and his character is sympathetic enough for us to care and Grillo is, well Grillo is Grillo which is exactly what you want for the stone cold action star.
The biggest drawback is the noticeable CGI gunfire and blood spray in the movie’s several action scenes, but I’ve become desensitized to all of that at this point that it really doesn’t ruin the mood for me. I understand why it’s done and, in this day, and age with on set safety such a big thing for good reasons, it is something we will all have to accept. All I ask is to at least try your hardest in post to make it look as authentic as possible.
Director Wes Miller, who also worked with Grillo on Hell on the Border, makes no excuses for the type of film he’s making. This is the sort of film that flooded video store shelves back in the day and no one had a real problem with them back then so why should we now. Miller keeps the pace and action moving with brisk momentum. The movie’s running time is an hour and forty-five minutes, so it never overstays its welcome and it’s longer than most DTV flicks which allows more time with the characters.
With a Day to Die, I pretty much just wanted to forget my troubles for an average of two hours and watch bullets rain down, shit blow up and Grillo do his best bad ass performance and that’s what I got. Is this artistic cinema? I’ll wait for you to stop laughing…….are you done? OK, let’s move on. No this is clearly just a violent escapist flick with a maximum body count to please action afficionados. I watched the trailer and guess what everybody? I got exactly what I saw in the promo. Imagine that.
Willis is fine during his screentime and offers a cold take on his corrupt chief. He even gets to get in on the action a little at the end, so it was still a joy to see him blast away with an assault rifle. His character arc is transparent but we all knew that going in so he does what he does with what he can do. Let’s once again move on.
The finale is an explosive good time as well and even though this isn’t the climatic shoot out from HEAT, it still is pretty kick ass as Connolly, Mason and crew get in over their heads and have one decent street shootout to cap off the proceedings. Miller makes everyone pretty much expendable here so it is a little nerve tingling to discover who will actually survive when the guns go dry and the dust settles. The firefight is as advertised and there’s enough mayhem and carnage and public destruction to warrant this a sure-fire viewing.
A Day to Die also comes complete with a nice little twist to enhance one’s viewing experience. I won’t spoil what actually goes down in case I have convinced you to check this one out, but I will say that it does make the film a little bit better in the long run and it puts the story in motion more and on a whole new playing field that should satisfy audiences. I will commend Miller and screen writers Rab Berry and Scott Mallace for going there. I will say that I was a little pissed at the fate of one of the characters but that’s all I’ll say on that matter. At the end of the day, it is what it is, and I guess it makes this character’s arc a little more fitting in service of the story.
Once again, when you look at the film’s score on Rotten Tomatoes (which I never listen to BTW) it stands at a depressing 0% just like Acts of Violence. This movie had an uphill battle from day one and once again, reviewers with sticks up their asses bashed the film because they are comparing it to something else which is really unfair. It’s like some of these critics get paid to be miserable and just shell out negative reviews. A Day to Die is better than that and hopefully I have swayed at least one reader out there to watch it because it, like I said, does what it’s supposed to do. Mayhem reigns supreme per usual. It’s not rocket science folks.
Overall, A Day to Die isn’t HEAT by any stretch of the imagination but it doesn’t aim to be. It just takes the enjoyable aspects of that classic thriller and shapes itself into something else for the time and budget it had. The cast led by Kevin Dillon and Frank Grillo are solid and Willis does his best with the limited amount of time he has. His Die Hard days are over so once we accept it, we can probably see these films in a new light. People get blown away, cars and public property explode and Grillo does what he always does best in these roles and that’s look cool as shit and throw his action cred swagger around. Basically, if you want to see an as advertised time waster that serves up plenty of decent action, violence and public demolition then A Day to Die should scratch your itch.
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