Thursday, June 15, 2017

Once Upon a Time in Venice: It’s a Real Bummer, Dude

There were active oil wells on Venice Beach up through the 1970s. Granted, there is a mini-tech boomlet underway now, but the hipster colony’s primary industry has been scenesterism since the last wells were decommissioned in the early 1990s. Skateboarding private detective Steve Ford definitely considers himself a part of that funky scene. Yes, we will have to spend time with an annoying self-styled Bohemian in Mark Cullen’s alleged action-comedy Once Upon a Time in Venice (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Mark & Robb Cullen’s screenplay is so episodic, it could use a prescription for Ritalin, but eventually it decides its driving Macguffin will be Ford’s niece’s beloved terrier, who gets dognapped by junkies and bartered to Venice’s drug lord, Spyder, with whom Ford has some awkward history. Spyder offers him a deal. If he recovers the money and the drugs his girlfriend Lupe absconded with, he can exchange them for Fido. Of course, there are numerous intertwining cases and subplots, such as the spectacularly pornographic graffiti plaguing a real estate developer charmingly referred to as “Lou the Jew.”

This film is almost unwatchable. None of the jokes land, but some of them face-plant so hard we have to feel embarrassed for the big-name case, who have all appeared in vastly superior films, including Bruce Willis (Unbreakable) as Ford, John Goodman (Argo) as his surf shop buddie, Jason Momoa (Road to Paloma) as Spyder, Stephanie Sigman (Miss Bala) as Lupe, and Famke Janssen (Rounders) as Ford’s personality-less sister-in-law. They all find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to pull off gags involving sex addicts-anonymous support groups and transvestite hookers doing straight characters’ make-up at gun point.

Actually, a little politically incorrect humor would be fine, even healthy, but it has to be funny. Alas, that is not the case here. Ironically, the ending would be massively unsatisfying in nearly any other film, but in this case, it is largely what these characters deserve. Not recommended at all, Once Upon a Time in Venice opens tomorrow (6/16) in New York, at the Cinema Village and in LA at the Monica Film Center.