Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, it would have become increasingly apparent that Bruce Willis – star of classic films like Die Hard, The Fifth Element and more recently cameoing alongside Arnie in the Expendable movies – seems to have just flat-out given up. Watching his performances in his more recent films, like GI Joe: Retaliation, A Good Day To Die Hard, and Looper, Willis seems to be less interested in his characters and performance, than he is with simply showing up on set and collecting his paycheck.
And I’m reasonably sure I know which film was the one that flipped the switch. More on this in a moment.
Back in his Moonlighting days, Willis was trying to build a career, and things obviously took a turn for the better after 1989’s Die Hard came out – the film has since become an action classic, and redefined the genre to the point where any action film is compared to it…. you know: “this film is like Die Hard on a [bus/train/plane/boat/roman orgy]” We’ve all heard (and probably used) that expression; Die Hard remains one of the definitive films of the 80’s, and remains Bruce’s most iconic performance. Post-Die Hard, Willis’ career took off, ranging from voicing infants in Look Who’s Talking (showing his penchant for comedy) to drama (Bonfire Of The Vanities) to action/comedy (Hudson Hawk) and high fantasy (Death Becomes Her). Not every film he appeared in was a success (Hudson Hawk remains his most famous bomb) but Willis’ career remained on an upward trajectory thanks to canny films choices that kept him in the public eye – 1991’s The Last Boy Scout, followed a few years later by Striking Distance (which wasn’t great, but still successful) and Tarantino’s sophomore effort, Pulp Fiction in 1994, ensured he remained firmly in high rotation throughout movie houses around the globe.
Looking over his filmography, one comes to realize that Willis isn’t really pigeonholed into a specific type of movie genre; he’s known largely as an action star, but a large swathe of his output has been as varied as you could imagine. Willis’ appearances in The Fifth Element (a kooky sci-fi outing from Luc Besson), The Sixth Sense (one of the highest grossing films of 1999, and a film which re-invented the “twist” ending) and Michael Bay’s Armageddon (as well as Edward Zwick’s politically charged The Siege) are as different films as it’s possible to get, featuring Willis in roles so different from each other there’s no way he could be typecast.
The early 2000’s saw a bit of a run of lesser Willis films, between Shyamalan’s critically acclaimed but commercially limp Unbreakable, The Whole Nine Yards, Harts War and wTears Of The Sun, there were more blips on the radar than outright Willis classics. 2005 saw him appear in Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City, a blazing sci-fi/drama/grindhouse outing which garnered both critical and commercial praise. Willis continued to work almost constantly, putting out nearly 2 films per year, before he hit the ground with the science fiction actioner Surrogates. Honestly, Surrogates was one of the worst films of Willis’ post-millennial career. It was also the film in which he appeared to have had enough. The film was mediocre, but it was Willis’ apparently lack of energy within that film that gave me pause.
Since Surrogates, Willis seems to have simply given up: he’s played the same blank-faced, nearly-bored character in each of the films he’s done since – Watch him in The Expendables, and Expendables 2, RED, Looper, A Good Day To Die Hard and GI Joe: Retaliation, and tell me Willis even gives a shit he’s in those films. It’s blatantly obvious that he doesn’t care about these movies, and that he’s simply there, going through the motions.
Gone are the days of Die Hard’s “Yippee Ki Yay” enthusiasm, or Fifth Element’s crazy, shouty insanity – hell, watch him in 12 Monkeys and compare that to Expendables 2, and you’ll see how far Willis has fallen off the Hollywood wagon. So what’s happened to Bruce to make him suddenly seem to give up? Recent interviews by Willis, one of which he was – frankly – rude and unappreciative to the interviewer, and another in which he showed up wearing a frickin’ bath robe, make one think that some kind of massive practical joke is going on. But it isn’t, that’s what’s most troubling. So what’s the answer?
Frankly, I think he’s sick of it. He’s sick of the action films these days doing the same kind of things, and I think he’s even more sick of having to perform the same kinds of roles in each outing. Which makes you wonder why he’s even still doing it? I mean, if you or I were sick of doing something, we’d change gears and try something else, right? He’s done enough to ensure his status as a legend of the screen is assured, and he’s given us more pop-culture characters than any single human has a right to (perhaps except Mel Blanc) and there’s little chance he really needs the money, so why doesn’t he just stop making films he obviously has no interest in, and retire to an island in the Bahamas somewhere.
If you were Bruce Willis, and you’d given as much to cinema as he has, and you felt like it was all tired and boring, wouldn’t you?