Gone are the days when Bruce Willis’ face on a movie poster promised a quality production. As you probably already know, the Hard Die star retired from acting due to a degenerative brain disease that hampered his cognitive abilities. Thankfully, we can look back at Willis’ glory days with the best films of his career, but anyone hoping to see the actor in a decent film in the last few years before he retires will be out of luck.
I recently had the misfortune of reviewing Midnight In The Switchgrass, a low-grade serial killer thriller that is one of Willis’ worst films. Unfortunately, one of the actor’s last films, The White Elephant, is worse than that dismal effort. It’s painful to watch, not only because of the terrible script, poorly constructed action sequences, and drunken direction, but also because it’s very clear that Willis is no longer the actor he once was.
The actor’s lines of dialogue are very short, probably due to his cognitive decline. Willis’ delivery of these lines is quite wooden, and that’s probably because it’s being fed to him through an earpiece. There were moments where he looked completely confused by what was going on, and while that may be the director’s fault for not providing clarity, it could also be because Willis is clearly a shadow of his former self. It was really sad to see him on screen and I’m sorry to say this, but I’m glad he’s out of film now.
In terms of the film itself, as I’ve suggested, it’s absolutely terrible. Willis plays Arnold Soloman, a ruthless mob boss who orders a hit on police officer Flynn (Olga Kurylenko), who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time after witnessing one of his crime lord men set off a bomb. His partner also has a target on his head, but you won’t care if he, or indeed any character in this movie, survives.
The cast is a good cast, but they have little to work with thanks to a weak and sometimes pretentious script. Michael Rooker makes the most impact here as a hit man with a conscience, but his performance is too good for an ultimately largely forgettable film.
John Malkovich occasionally appears as Arnold’s lawyer, and for some reason tends to share tales of Greek history in the brief moments he’s on screen. I can only assume he agreed to be in the movie as a favor to his Red co-star Willis, aside from friendship and a pay check, I don’t know why else he wanted to be in the movie.
White Elephant is directed by former stuntman and stunt coordinator Jesse V. Johnson, who previously worked with Willis on Mercury Rising. I haven’t seen many of his other movies, but as evidence, he’s not a very good director. Almost every scene is poorly directed, including the action scenes that should have been his primary duty. There will be those who will excuse the low quality of the film due to its low budget, but I don’t think that is the biggest problem here. The biggest problem is his lack of attention to the entire production, from his lazy direction to the script he wrote with Eric Martinez.
The title of the film is ironic. In English, ‘white elephant’ is a term used for useless possession. Anyone who owns a copy of White Elephant DVD will no doubt be shaking their head as once they have seen this sad film it is difficult to watch it again. Thankfully, it’s unlikely that most people have it, as it can easily be found on online streaming services. It’s available to anyone with a Sky or Now TV subscription in the UK, and can be rented elsewhere for those without a membership.
Of course, you shouldn’t rent White Elephant or add it to your streaming watchlist, because if you do, you’ll be wasting your time. It’s a sluggish production with little merit aside from a talented turn by Rooker, who tries to breathe some life into his admirable performance.
Ultimately, this is not a film that can be recommended to anyone, not even Bruce Willis, who had to walk away from it with a heavy heart. Skip it and instead rewatch Die Hard or any of the other films Willis made before his health and career declined.