In honor of this week’s release Cop Out, the Listicle is All Things Bruce. When researching for this post, I originally told fellow blogger William that I wasn’t much of a Willis fan, so it’d be tough to find much to write about. When I checked his IMDb page, though, turns out he’s done quite a few movies, good and bad, that have either made me laugh or cringe (or in the case of a few, had me totally enthralled). So I reconsidered: here are recaps of some of my Willis favorites.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT (dir. Luc Besson, 1997)
Bruce Willis’s storied career has had some hits and some misses, but as far as I’m concerned, Luc Besson’s 1997 sci-fi epic The Fifth Element is one of Willis’s best movies. Besson’s pictures lean toward the strident and outlandish, but his main characters are often stoic, representing a solid axis to an outrageous world. This is definitely a Willis strong suit. His Korben Dallas spends the whole of The Fifth Element fending off hysterical supporting characters. His droll, woe-is-me mother’s voice berates him over the phone; shrill, obnoxious Chris Tucker shrieks at him while Tucker’s phallic hairstyle bobs in the air; Ian Holm’s uptight Father Cornelius wrings his hands and shouts orders. Even the President gets in on the action. Jean-Paul Gaultier’s beautiful, insane costume design and Gary Oldman’s mad villain Zorg are nearly worth the price of admission. Through all the crazy, of course, Bruce gets the girl and saves the world. It’s like magic!
Frankly, The Fifth Element is one of the most stylish sci-fi movies I’ve seen. It dreams up and brings to life a world of flying cars, cruises to other planets, and both benign and malignant alien races. One of the movie’s best scenes, which transmutes it to a literal space opera, is a brilliantly edited juxtaposition of Leeloo (played memorably and adorably by a tangerine-haired Milla Jovovich) fighting off the baddies while the alien Diva Plavalaguna hits the kind of notes no human has ever been able to. In the midst of it all, though, humans don’t seem to have learned much. Willis’s taxi driver Korben is downtrodden, oppressed, and yanked into a crazy situation. However, tolerant and good-hearted Willis braves the mess and finds the fabled fifth element to halt impending doom. Yet another day saved by Bruce Willis!
DEATH BECOMES HER (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1992)
Back when Robert Zemeckis made movies that starred people and not creepy animated avatars, he helmed an unjustly forgotten satire about youth and vanity called Death Becomes Her. The movie follows Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) and Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) as they battle it out for Bruce Willis’s mousy doctor Ernest Menville. Hawn’s Helen turns into a fat cat lady after her relationship with Willis ends, and she psychotically despises Streep’s pretty Madeline. Both women harbor a horrifying obsession with youth that causes them to ingest a miracle potion that ensures eternal beauty. These are truly icky stereotypes: shrieking, jealous women who will do anything to get the man, stay young and pretty, and resort to ice cream and fourteen felines for comfort when their lives don’t work out (most tabloid covers would have you believe this is the majority of us). But the best thing about Death Becomes Her is its delicious satire.
This is one movie in which Willis doesn’t play the hero or the antihero. He’s just a mousy, anxious, alcoholic doctor at the mercy of two crazy women. Madeline and Helen dance around their catty, envious hatred for each other until in a fit of self-preservation, Willis’s repressed Ernest pushes Madeline down the stairs. The fun really starts when both Madeline and Helen end up dead, one with her head on backwards, the other with a gaping hole in her stomach. Because they took the potion, their bodies can never die, so they’re forced to live with and snark at each other for all eternity. The movie’s flawed and weird, but it’s a fun black comedy that makes good, dirty fun of our obsession with youth.
PLANET TERROR (dir. Robert Rodriguez, 2007)
Planet Terror was one half of the awesome Grindhouse double-feature (Quentin Tarantino’s gruesome car-chase-ploitation flick Death Proof is the other). Together the two formed a wonderful homage to the gory B-movies of the sixties and seventies, complete with spoof trailers directed by Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright. Planet Terror is the first feature, and follows go-go (not cry-cry) dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) as she loses her leg, replaces it with a machine gun, and takes out zombies infected by a mysterious government conspiracy. The movie interweaves crazy twist after wacky incident that only true horror fans can love (luckily I’m one of these). Willis’s Lieutenant Muldoon is one of the bad guys, a military man whose team managed to kill Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. The U.S. government didn’t want to end the raucous patriotism that kept Americans going, so they gassed the soldiers. In their search for a cure, the soldiers gas a whole town. “What?” you ask. Well, never mind. It’s ridiculous for a reason, and Willis is marvelous in the role, stoic once again even as his face boils off.
Planet Terror is a crazy, gory, hilarious, and lovingly rendered spoof of the grindhouse genre. It has no qualms with halting the movie halfway through in favor of a title card that says the film is missing a reel and the theater apologizes. Twenty minutes of plot goes untold, but it’s all for the best. Willis is in good company in this one—Tarantino, special effects makeup artist Tom Savini, and an eerie Josh Brolin round out the cast—and I’m willing to bet everyone involved had a ball making it.
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