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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Once Upon a Time in Venice  (2017)
1½ Stars
Directed by Mark Cullen.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Thomas Middleditch, John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Jessica Gomes, Adam Goldberg, Famke Janssen, Emily Robinson, Stephanie Sigman, Kaleti Williams, Tyga, Adrian Martinez, Victor Ortiz, Wood Harris, Ken Davitian, Kal Penn, Elisabeth Rohm, Billy Gardell, Christopher McDonald, David Arquette.
2017 – 94 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for sexual content and nudity, strong violence, and for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, August 14, 2017.
Running its course like an ultra-lite version of Paul Thomas Anderson's terrifically twisty, craftily layered 2014 picture "Inherent Vice," "Once Upon a Time in Venice" is a sunny SoCal noir so inconsequential it seems to evaporate as it plays out. Bruce Willis (2015's "Vice") embraces his usual smirking onscreen persona as Steve Ford, a Venice Beach-based private detective with a framed newspaper article randomly displayed in his apartment reporting his past life as a "disgraced" LAPD officer. When he isn't sleeping with nubile clients, he and partner John (Thomas Middleditch) are hitting the streets to covertly investigate any number of wayward crimes. When Steve's beloved Russell terrier Buddy is dognapped, it is the catalyst for an odyssey that sees them embroiled in the shady activities of loan sharks, quirky ne'er-do-wells, and a drug-dealing gang led by Spyder (Jason Momoa). Meanwhile, they move closer to fingering the Banksy-esque artist who has been leaving lewd paintings of real estate magnate Lew (Adam Goldberg) on the sides of buildings throughout the city.

The directorial debut of writer Mark Cullen (2010's Kevin Smith-helmed Willis debacle "Cop Out"), "Once Upon a Time in Venice" sounds better in concept than delivery. It is well-shot by cinematographer Amir Mokri (2015's "Pixels"), deriving minor pleasure from its attractive locations and who's-who cast (David Arquette literally pops up long enough to run by while exclaiming, "Taylor Swift saved the music industry!"). The tone falls on the broadly silly side, but it's not half as amusing as it thinks it is (a chase sequence where a bare-naked Willis skateboards through a nighttime Venice overextends itself long after its novelty has worn off). Further done in by a decidedly lame script by Mark Cullen and Robb Cullen that doesn't know what to do with its inspired ensemble while leaving side characters and relationships dangling, the picture desperately struggles to structure its narrative by relying on intermittent voice-over narration from Thomas Middleditch's (2015's "The Final Girls") John. The frustrating, mean-spirited non-ending of "Once Upon a Time in Venice" is its final insult, seemingly leaving the proceedings open for a sequel almost guaranteed to never come.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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