Written by Mark and Robb Cullen and directed by the former, Once Upon a Time in Venice is a film that starts off interestingly but loses steam as more and more characters and twists are added to the story. These create a kind of chaos that is not necessarily bad; it does however become too much stuff thrown at the viewer. The film has potential and some really fun ideas, it just does not seem to know which one to pick and go with. The writing is a bit off in spots and the directing seems to not know where it wants to go and where the film should go. Some of the performances are good and some are odd, which leads this reviewer to believe the directing may be the source of this in terms of good actors making odd choices in how to act in certain scenes.
The acting, as mentioned just now, goes from good to odd, which is not always a bad thing, but it also is not a great thing as some scenes will throw the viewer out and make them wonder why the choices made were, well, made. Bruce Willis here gives his usual performance as of late, that of a man with a goal and not much to lose. He gives the Bruce Willis performance his fans can count on, no more, no less. Interesting in his part is John Goodman as Willis’ best friend who gives a performance that is interesting and almost touching in its sadness (at times). Jason Momoa is also in this as a gang leader that looks to be supposed to be Mexican but as Momoa is definitely not, this is one of those things that seem like a very odd choice. The way Momoa plays his part feels a bit off while also being something to check out if that makes any sense. The film also has a plethora of stars showing up for cameos and bit parts.
The film does have something going for it for sure and it’s how it looks. It looks like a bigger budget release and shows Venice beach in a bright, sunny light most of the time. The cinematography by Amir Mokri brings the sun out in some scenes in fantastic ways and the darkness in great ways in others. He gives Venice a way to have its personality shine. The vibe of the beach and its community, with canals and walking areas is there for sure, which gives the film an extra something that helps the viewer watch it.
In a film with a naked skateboarding Bruce Willis, a surfing John Goodman, a Mexican (?) character played by Jason Momoa, and a super cute dog, the chaos and mish-mash of ideas takes over and not much is done to reign it in and make it into a movie that doesn’t feel like a bit of a mess. While it’s entertaining in parts and head-scratching in others, Once Upon a Time in Venice is an interesting watch for sure, but also one that might just be watched to see the chaos unfold and how crazy it’s going to get while it does not get super-duper crazy which is almost a letdown. Had the crazy been turned up even higher, the film would have gone into the absurd and been something else entirely.