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With: Bruce Willis, Thomas Middleditch, John Goodman, Jason Momoa, Adam Goldberg, Famke Janssen, Jessica Gomes, Emily Robinson, Christopher McDonald, Stephanie Sigman, Maurice Compte, Kal Penn, Elizabeth Rohm
Written by: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen
Directed by: Mark Cullen
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 94
Date: 06/16/2017

Once Upon a Time in Venice (2017)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Another in a long line of Tarantino-inspired, multi-character comic crime capers, this adroit movie stays on its toes during a whirlwind of sly humor, cool-headed characters, and colorful situations.

In Once Upon a Time in Venice, private detective Steve Ford (Bruce Willis) is a recognizable figure in his Venice, California neighborhood. When he is caught sleeping with a missing woman he has found, he escapes, naked on a skateboard. This leads to a job recovering a stolen car from a drug dealer named Spyder (Jason Momoa). Before things can settle down, Steve's dog, Buddy, is stolen, and it looks as if the dangerous Spyder is involved.

And that is somehow connected to another case: real estate man Lou the Jew (Adam Goldberg) is being pestered with graphic graffiti on his building and wants to catch the culprit. To unwind this tangled series of events, which also involves a case of drugs and money borrowed from a loan shark, Steve's best friend, surf shop manager Dave (John Goodman), decides to help. And through it all, Steve's apprentice John (Thomas Middleditch) is available to narrate.

The absurd plot of Once Upon a Time in Venice keeps charging ahead with a goofy gait, not even allowing time for the hero to sleep. In his role, Bruce Willis is fresh and at his cool, cocky best, and director Mark Cullen — who wrote the screenplay for the awful Willis vehicle Cop Out — gives the entire supporting cast a chance to shine. Only Thomas Middleditch's character, who narrates, is a bit overly slapsticky.

Especially funny is — surprisingly — Jason Momoa, giving his drug dealer (who once supposedly killed a Starbucks barista for misspelling his name) a quiet dignity. Other jokes are broad and purposely offensive, but carried off with spirit.

It's far from a work of art, and in Willis's filmography it's closer to Alpha Dog or Lucky Number Slevin than Red or Pulp Fiction, but it's a bright, sunny, silly movie, and perhaps worth a viewing on TV.

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