Review: 'Once Upon A Time In Venice' Starring Bruce Willis, Jason Momoa, & John Goodman

In 2010 Bruce Willis, who was still a moderately respectable star back then, put his credibility on the line in the buddy comedy, Cop Out. It was a disaster, best remembered for the beef it sparked between Willis and director Kevin Smith. It was written by Mark and Robb Cullen, who have found in Willis an apparent muse for their specific brand of idiot humor, because they've done it yet again with Once Upon a Time in Venice, a film that proves these three should never be allowed to work together again.

Imagine a really incompetently made Inherent Vice and that's pretty much what you're going to get. Unfortunately set in Venice Beach and not Venice, Italy, the film stars Willis as Steve, who is sort of like the John from Cincinnati of his beachside town. He's a local guru everybody seems to know, and he's also the only detective in town. When he's not schooling the local skater kids about the dangers of drugs and hookers, he can be found sleeping with his clients, which puts his credibility on shaky ground. But for the most part he's a good guy, with a really cute dog, a Jack Russell terrier, that he shares with his beloved nice. You know the dog's in trouble, don't you?

Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch gets the unenviable task of narrating the soon-to-be nonsense, playing Steve's trainee partner, Steve. It's up to Steve to find out who has been spray painting vulgar sex acts on the apartment buildings owned by "Lew the Jew" (Adam Goldberg). Everybody in the film has a colorful name. For instance, Jason Momoa plays local drug dealer Spyder, who steals Steve's dog as payback for a previous encounter gone wrong. Steve has to get the dog back, of course, and doing so will involved a couple of Willis firsts.

One: this is the first time we've had to endure the sight of a skateboarding, buck naked Bruce Willis. It didn't need to happen, but it did and now it can't be unseen.

Two: this is the first time a transvestite Bruce Willis is chased through the streets of Venice Beach by a marauding horde of other transvestites. It too cannot be unseen.

Three: this is the first time Jason Momoa has tried to be intimidating, and really really failed at it. This was not the best movie for him.

Being first is not always a good thing.

There are random appearances everywhere by stars punching below their weight. Kal Penn turns up, for exactly one scene, to play a Pakistani convenience store owner with a chip on his shoulder. Dude, you were in the White House not that long ago. Better yet, you were at White Castle not that long ago! John Goodman plays an unfortunate twist on Walter Sobchak as Steve's best friend, a mellow guy going through an ugly divorce. It eventually makes him not so mellow, until he goes full-on Sobchak. All it does is make you wish The Big Lebowski was on instead. Appearances by Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Rohm, Victor Ortiz, Wood Harris, and Stephanie Sigman add little to a plot that basically consists of Willis getting punched out every 10 minutes or so.

No really, that's about it. The laughs come few and far between, and yet you look at the cast and wonder what might have been. The premise is absurd, but silly cop movies done right can be a blast. The sticking point is that they need to be funny. They need a lead actor with someone to bounce jokes off of, and Willis gets a sleepy performance by Middleditch, who looks like he's eager to return to the HBO set or to do another phone commercial. Come to think of it, I'd rather endure another phone commercial than sit through Once Upon a Time in Venice again. Can you hear me now, Willis?

Rating: 1.5 out of 5