Bruce Willis… oh, how the mighty action star of the ’90s is getting lazier by the day in his old age. However, L.A. Vengeance at the very least showcases Willis seeming to have some fun in front of the camera, and in this film he is actually the lead, not some day-player who still gets paid half the film’s low budget instead of the actual star of the movie. It also seems to have been released under various different titles: the US title, for instance, is Once Upon a Time in Venice. This is never a good sign…
Bruno plays Steve Ford, a crappy PI who works in and around the Venice Beach area of L.A. When his dog Buddy gets stolen by gang led by Spyder, played by Jason Mamoa, Steve teams up with his non-canine best friend Dave, who is played by John Goodman. This pairing instantly brings up shades of the Coen Brothers’ masterful comedic take on the detective yarn, The Big Lebowski. To add to the hard-boiled twist, it’s narrated by John (Thomas Middleditch), who is Steve’s business partner. However instead of the bald-headed old-school detective that Steve projects, John is a nerdy 20-something who looks like he belongs in Silicon Valley (Middleditch is the star of the TV show of the same name) instead of fighting Samoan gangsters.
If this film had been made in 1992, it would probably be looked upon very fondly. It opens with an absolutely ridiculous scene that ends up with Bruno skateboarding through Venice Beach butt-naked. He also gets entangled with some very butch-looking transgender prostitutes who give him a makeover… yes, Bruno is in a dress. It’s got this slightly charming mid-’90s throwback feel, from the rip-off Dick Dale soundalike muzak to the cast, which includes Famke Janssen and Adam Goldberg as “Lew the Jew” (I’m not joking about that name). It’s a film that certainly isn’t getting any marks for political correctness.
In the end, it’s basically kind of a fun ride for its thankfully short running time of 90 minutes, although it’s already running out of steam by that point. Middleditch’s role seems like a last-minute addition, and it was a troubled shoot: Ralph Garman’s role was cut simply because Willis didn’t think it added anything to the film. Garman has a podcast with Kevin Smith, who had a very public falling-out with Willis over their film Cop Out. Willis, however, seemed to get on fine with the writers of Cop Out, the Cullen Brothers, since they ended up writing and directing this film. There’s no real visual invention, it looks a decent cop show aesthetically.
The disc has a 15-minute making-of which, curiously, doesn’t include input from Willis—he must have been in Brunoworld the day they shot the EPK footage.