Bruce Willis’ latest effort to dislodge his film career from a stubborn rut goes unrewarded with “Once Upon a Time in Venice,” a wincingly unfunny comedy caper set along L.A.’s funky beach community.
He may be Venice’s “only licensed detective,” but Steve Ford (Willis) seems to have a lot of downtime that he (or his body double) spends either skateboarding butt-naked or hanging with sad-sack surf shop proprietor Dave (John Goodman).
But when his beloved Jack Russell terrier, Buddy. is snatched by thugs, Ford springs into a semblance of action, reluctantly joining forces with a local gang banger named Spyder (Jason Momoa) with assistance from his nervous apprentice, John (Thomas Middleditch, the voice of Harold in “Captain Underpants”).
Alas, this is no canine “Keanu.”
Serving as the directorial debut of Mark Cullen, who, with co-writer brother Robb, also penned the equally limp 2010 Willis buddy comedy “Cop Out,” the smug movie is piled high with tired stereotypes (Adam Goldberg’s real estate agent, “Lew the Jew” among them) and half-baked action.
Clearly large chunks of the dialogue have been improvised here, which, in previous cases have been known to mine comic gold, but here tediously fall flat with a self-amused thud, effectively leaving Willis and the rest of his supporting cast, including Famke Janssen and Kal Penn, hung out to dry under the intense Venice sun.
‘Once Upon a Time in Venice’
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica