As the opening narration informs, Steve Ford is the only licensed detective in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice. He’s set himself up as a local sage, spitting out thin pep talks to young skateboarders outside of the bowl. Basically, business isn’t exactly booming.
The narration is by John (Thomas Middleditch, SILICON VALLEY), a young detective who works under–and hopefully one day with–Steve (Bruce Willis, in one of five movies he’ll appear in in 2017). As Steve is, as one framed newspaper article says, a “disgraced LAPD officer,” it would seem he’s not exactly the best role model. Then again, consider this sequence, which occurs less than 15 minutes into the movie: Steve dives out of a window to escape bad guys, jumps into a swimming pool, loses his underpants, hops on a skateboard, cruises down the boulevard, gets pulled over by a cop, conceals a gun in his butt cheeks, gets let go, skateboards across the bar and loses his pursuers. What’s so disgraceful about that?
He also has a dog, which is supposed to automatically make him likeable. When he’s not doing odd jobs to make a few bucks or help out a friend in need, Steve is tending to Buddy. One day, Buddy is kidnapped by gang leader Spyder (Jason Momoa, soon to appear in JUSTICE LEAGUE and AQUAMAN), who won’t give the pooch back until Steve goes on a series of tasks. At this point, one might wonder, How did the dog-as-revenge-motivator become such a thing?
ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE, like its lead character, can’t be taken seriously. Considering how insanely dumb and insanely silly nearly all of the scenarios are, the viewer must assume that co-writers Mark and Robb Cullen (the former directed) meant for their debut to be an over-the-top action-comedy. If one can go along with this, the issue is that ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE is neither entertaining nor funny–the action set pieces are lazy and the jokes result to putting a wig and makeup on its lead. Bruce Willis fans may tune in, but even they will see that he has merely turned up between “Action” and “Cut,” giving a performance that comes off like a MAD TV take on Bruce Willis. These are eyerolls and not chuckles that the movie is earning.
Contributing little is the overcrowded supporting cast of familiar faces. Those not previously mentioned include John Goodman, Famke Janssen, Adam Goldberg, Christopher McDonald, Kal Penn and more. There’s even a cameo by David Arquette, because this is the kind of movie that thinks a David Arquette cameo is a draw. There are far too many minor characters and subplots here, like there’s an attempt to shove 40 hours worth of abandoned Grand Theft Auto caricatures and cartoons into 90 minutes. (The screenplay tries to defend some of these, like Lou the Jew, but has no problem having Momoa play a stereotypical Latino thug, complete with wifebeater and bandana.)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE is a stupid, unfunny movie that has no aim and no course. It goes from scene to scene failing to do anything of even minimal worth with the action and comedy it attempts to set up. It has all the appeal of stepping in dog turds for an hour and a half.
Video: 2.40:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. The movie looks quite good, with fine details and healthy colors.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Subtitles in English and Spanish. Dialogue is clean and sound effects come through nicely.
Behind the Scenes (16:41) offers on-set footage and cast interviews.