WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A big-time city man returns to his small-town home to take his young son hunting but while they're on the hunt they witness one man shooting another after a clearly illicit deal goes wrong. Things quickly go from bad to worse as they are drawn into a web of dirty cops and dangerous bank robbers.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
It says something about just how far Bruce Willis has fallen that he is acted off screen at every turn by Hayden Christensen. Christensen will clearly never be able to escape being the man who played Darth Vader as a whiny adolescent but, to be fair, he is probably never going to be a genuinely good, let alone great, actor. He's certainly a much better actor than the Star Wars prequels suggested but when you consider the pool of seriously talented young actors out there right now, he seems destined to constantly be bubbling under the surface. Hence his starring in a film that I'm actually reasonably sure did go go straight to streaming and DVD/Blu-Ray overseas.
The film in question - First Kill for those not keeping track at home – barely even merits a discussion, though, as it is nothing you haven't seen done much better elsewhere but is still, for what it is, a perfectly OK straight-to-video B-movie, where you will be able to predict every twist whole acts before the characters. Taken for what it is, it's perfectly passably written and directed; it's just not something that you need bother with unless you're looking for a dopey B-grade action-thriller for a late, lazy Saturday night.
The only remotely interesting thing about it, then, is the way it works as a fairly perverse case study in good and bad acting. On the one hand, we have Hayden Christensen, a guy who is clearly, despite the mediocrity of the material, giving it his utmost as an actor. This is clearly not an effortless performance by one of the world's greatest actors but the fact that he's so clearly engaged in bringing his character to life means that the audience is kind of there with him, regardless of how stiff and ultimately unconvincing he is. It's a mediocre performance, at best, bolstered by an actor engaged with the material.
And then there's Bruce Willis. Now, here's an actor who starred in the greatest action movie of all time, holding his own against the scene-stealing brilliance of Alan Rickman; an actor who excelled at fun popcorn flicks and impressed consistently as something of a character actor in films by Wes Anderson, M Night Shyamalan and Quentin Tarantino. He may not have been the greatest actor of all time but he was someone who, through sheer screen presence alone, could truly make you believe he was.
I use the past-tense because, aside for brief moments of his old self reappearing in something like Wes Anderson's Moonlight Kingdom, Bruce Willis has spent the last decade doing everything in his power to incinerate any vestiges of good will we might have once had towards him. Aside for coming across in interviews as someone with whom no one in their right mind would want to spend more than a couple of second, his on-screen work has gone from mediocre to unbearable.
He knocks out seemingly dozens of these instantly forgettable straight-to-video thrillers a year and in every one of them he spends however long he is on screen – which is often not very long, to be fair – looking like someone who is fairly aware that he is above this sort of thing and has nothing but contempt for everything and everyone around him. Perhaps it's his relative increase in screen time here or maybe he simply has reached a new low as an actor, but he has never been worse than he is in First Kill. Or, at least, I assume that's the case – like 99% of the population, I haven't actually seen most of his recent abominations.
Willis doesn't simply act badly here; he doesn't act at all. He spends the entire film sleepwalking through every scene with the same punchably smug expression on his face, looking like he would rather be anywhere else and making it very clear just how little he thinks of both his audience and the film in which he is starring. It's a truly hateful performance by a once-great Hollywood legend.
I'm sorry that you have to keep on performing in films that are so far beneath you, Bruce, but aren't you rich enough by now to spare yourself – and most importantly, your audience – from having to sink to such levels? For all of our sakes, just retire already.