Completely independent of Kai’s list earlier in the week, I had actually been thinking of Bruce Willis for about a week. Not in the usually admiring, possibly homoerotic light I used to, but through the hot, harsh light of a jaded, cynical old man, not unlike Bruce Willis. I was watching clips of him in Pulp Fiction and marveled at how good he was in that movie. I also though about him as I was watching Jackie Brown, since, like Sam Jackson, when they are acting is when they have hair. That made me start thinking of more Bruce Willis movies until I thought, what’s with Bruce Willis?
When I was in my younger days, full of warm emotions and happy memories of Bruce Willis, I thought the man could save us from anything. Terrorists, alien invasions, anal rapists, deadly viruses from the future, giant asteroids and Cybil Shepard, I knew Bruce Willis would save the world. But, somewhere along the line, he became hip to his own persona. He knew he was an internationally beloved movie star and he seemed to stop acting, content to merely give the people what they came to the movie to see, some more Bruce Willis. For every small supporting role in What Just Happened? or Grindhouse, there have been the truly unremarkable Hart’s War or basically any other boring Bruce Willis. We rarely see the actor Bruce Willis anymore, we just see the movie star Bruce Willis, although he did a phenomenal job in Over the Hedge. I have been a huge Bruce Willis fan since I was a kid, raised on episodes of Moonlighting. But David Addison has been dead for a long time and everybody knows that Bruce Willis has no interest in bringing him back to life. But, his second most iconic role has changed so much from 25 years ago, that is almost serves at the perfect example.
From the first Die Hard to this very latest installment that is filming, Bruce Willis became almost an acting version of George Lucas. He didn’t actually rape my childhood, but to watch John McClane grow from a young, wise-cracking cop to a cranky, stoic, world weary cop has just been depressing. He stopped playing John McClane about halfway through Die Hard With A Vengenace and has just been Bruce Willis since then. The fourth (?) Die Hard was so unbearable, I’ll be completely honest and saying that the only reason I went to see it was because Kev Smith was in it. But to spend the other eighty minutes watching this old man creak around Washington D.C., crashing cop cars into helicopters, climbing onto jets and shooting himself left me wondering what the hell movie I had walked into. Where was the yippy-ki-yays and the smart aleck comments and the interesting antagonist? Live Free or Die Hard was awful and leaves me with absolutely zero enthusiasm to go see the next one.
Do you think he introduces himself as Bruce Willis? He has to, right? ”Hi, my name is Bruce,” doesn’t sound cool enough. He has to walk right up to you, stick out his hand, crush your fingers and murmur, “Bruce Willis.”
I could not think of another actor of his generation that blurs the line so much between acting and just being. Sure, actors before him such as Pacino, DeNiro, Nicholson and Walken have done it before, but good God, Bruce Willis is not like Stallone or Schwarzenegger. The man has talent, he can actually act, but I don’t think he knew how much we loved him until he made The Sixth Sense. After that completely uninspired film with a few very good performances, he started to take himself too seriously as an actor. And he really started to cross the line in The Whole Nine Yards, a role that he could really sink his teeth into, but at times seemed to simply ease off and just be Bruce Willis. By the time they made the unnecessary sequel, The Whole Ten Yards, he turned on the Bruce Willis afterburners and never looked back. Even as terrific as he was in Sin City as Hartigan, can anybody deny that he was essentially playing himself? The lone gruff old cop, looking to settle one final score, trying to make things right in the world… blah, blah, blah. I loved that film and Bruce Willis in it, but Robert Rodriguez knew exactly what he was doing by casting him, along with Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen and Elijah Wood. But after that movie, and a great cameo in Ocean’s 12 (as, of course, Bruce Willis), I was afraid the Bruce Willis I grew up with was long gone. So I got home last night and looked for a DVD in my collection, autographed by Damon Wayans.
My favorite Bruce Willis movie of all time is The Last Boy Scout. I can quote that Shane Black script for days. To me, it was the perfect mix of a created character and Bruce Willis. There are dashes of Bruce Willis in Joe Hallenbeck, but the spirit of Joe Hallenbeck lives inside of Bruce Willis every moment that he is on screen. He ditches the clever smirk and the glowing confidence of a movie star married to Demi Moore, but wears a sad grin and is filled with the notion that nobody likes him, everybody hates him and he’s going to lose. Joe Hallenbeck is a personal hero of mine but he simply does not exist without Bruce Willis. Watching that film reminds of what Bruce Willis used to be and what I know he is capable of becoming again.
2012 is a perfect Bruce Willis year for Bruce Willis. Not only will he be in the ignorable Expendables 2, but he’s also in the second G.I. Joe, as old Joe. I mean, these things practically write themselves. But, then you remember, oh yea, he’s also in Moonrise Kingdom and Looper. Damn, how does Bruce Willis always stay one step ahead of me? I guess the old man hasn’t lost his moves just yet.