Director: Jesse V. Johnson
Writers: Jesse V. Johnson, Erik Martinez, Katharine Lee McEwan
Stars: Lorenzo Antonucci, Lincoln Brown, Eric Buarque
Jesse V. Johnson (Avengement, The Debt Collector) may well be the best action movie director working today. And his latest film, White Elephant, may be Bruce Willis’s (Cosmic Sin, Vendetta) best chance to add another memorable film to his credits. Or at least one that is memorable for all the right reasons.
Gabriel Tancredi is an enforcer who works for Arnold (Bruce Willis). They have Carlos (Vadhir Derbez, The Seventh Day, The Waiter) facing a rival who does not negotiate. He handles the matter, but a pair of cops, Vanessa (Olga Kurylenko, Black Widow, Quantum of Solace) and her partner (Michael Rose, 2177: The San Francisco Love Hacker Crimes, A Dark Place) watch him escape. Arnold gives Gabriel and Carlos forty-eight hours to fix that problem. And they do half the job quickly and easily. But finishing it may be more work than they expected.
Working from a script he co-wrote with Erik Martinez (Beyond the Mat, Chung Cu Ma) and some additional dialogue from Katharine Lee McEwan (Hell Hath No Fury, Solitary), Johnson gets things rolling with a well-arranged shootout. And after a bit of an introduction to our clues, he launches an assault on Vanessa’s house that has the side effect of sparking a power struggle among the local mobs. There is more action in the first half hour of this film than in most of Willis’s recent films.
Thankfully, he doesn’t slow down either, because when White Elephant has to rely on the story from him, he’s far less impressive. We’ve seen it all before, Vanessa is ex-military and has PTSD from her time in Afghanistan. Gabriel’s conscience has been bothering him since the death of his wife. Carlos is the young star ready to make his mark. He mixes up some dirty cops, dangerous friends, and a crooked lawyer who quotes Greek history and stirs it right up.
Malkovich is good in an extended cameo, even Willis is more on screen than he is. Kurylenko also does well as our heroine. However, Derbez is pretty bland as his nemesis, even though he doesn’t have much to work with. It’s Rooker who steals the show as the conflicted enforcer. He does a good job of projecting what’s going on and making a clichéd but rarely believable character arc work. He also gets the best line in the movie, “I’m a hitman, not a contractor,” after his estimate of a building’s strength turns out to be seriously wrong.
But at the end of the day, people watch Johnson’s movies for the action, not the acting. And while none of the actors are as good as Johnson’s regular star Scott Adkins, stunt coordinator Luke LaFontaine (The Mercenary, The Sand) makes sure the action scenes in White Elephant are sharp and well-staged. It also appears that the bullet hits were done with mostly practical effects, which is a nice change.
While the show is relatively low budget at times and the script is nothing special, White Elephant is an above average movie for its budget and market. It is one of the rare action movies in its budget range that offers a lot of solid action scenes. It may also be your last chance to see a good Bruce Willis performance.