Once Upon a Time In Venice was pulpish, noirish, and funny with an incredible array of characters. I found it extremely entertaining. It wasn’t the best movie, it certainly had flaws, but I enjoyed it and that is what I base my ratings off of, how much I enjoyed the film.
Bruce Willis plays Steve Ford, the only licensed private investigator in the Venice (Los Angeles not Italy) and he gets himself mixed up in a lot of odd cases. His partner John (Thomas Middleditch) narrates us through the story as we see Steve track down a missing sister, only to sleep with her and incur the wrath of her overprotective brothers, who he escapes in a naked skateboarding scene… He meets a friend whose car was stolen and he tracks it back to a drug dealer named Spyder (Jason Momoa), who he steals it back from by crashing out of his garage. When he gets home he finds out that his sister’s house has been robbed, taking his niece’s X-Box, their television, and Steve’s dog Buddy who his niece takes care of after school. They were robbed by punks who needed money for drugs, which leads Steve back to Spyder who controls the drug trade in town. Now Steve has to apologize for wrecking Spyder’s garage, and what he feels was “his” car (even though it was stolen) in an attempt to get Buddy back. Spyder agrees, (Steve’s gift basket of muffins helped smooth the tensions between them) and he’ll give Steve the dog back, if he’ll retrieve a case of cocaine that was stolen from him by a hooker. Things don’t get any easier for Steve who is trying to buy back his parent’s house that he was forced to sell years ago to Lou the Jew (Adam Goldberg) and help his best friend Dave (John Goodman) who is selling his surf shot to get through a tough divorce. Lou is in a bind too, because someone is painting pornographic graffiti on a building he owns that he’s trying to sell. So if Steve can catch the graffiti artist, he’ll get the house back, if he can find the drugs he’ll get his dog back, easy right?
When I first heard of this film, I thought it was trying to be a John Wick rip-off, action star Bruce Willis trying to get his dog back sounds a bit like action star Keannu Reeves trying to get revenge on the guys who killed his dog. Boy was I wrong, if this film was trying to cash in on any of the perceived similarities with John Wick, it did so totally with tongue in cheek.
I think what made Once Upon a Time In Venice work was the very clever script. The dialogue was snappy and natural, and really plays off the comedic talents of the lead, Bruce Willis. Bruce Willis is very funny, and has great comedic timing. I wouldn’t have thought that “tough guy” Jason Momoa would be as funny as he was either, but perhaps it was the juxtaposition of these tough actors playing these tough roles with a lighter twist that made it work. Having more seasoned comedic actors like Thomas Middleditch and John Goodman in the film also helps carry the story. Quite good, and quite entertaining, if you’re looking for a few good laughs, give it a try.
Bottom Line: Every time you thought a situation was resolved it just got more and more absurd! Every time things seemed sorted, a new character came in and twisted the plot into something more absurd than the last character did. I loved it.