Thursday, October 11, 2012

Great Moments in Poster Taglines

There have been many fine poster taglines over the years. In fact, I have a Question post coming up that deals with my absolute favorite, but this entry is about a different time: the era of Walter Bruce "Bruno" Willis.

This edition of Great Moments In... is about his first real stumble after Hudson Hawk. See, following Die Hard, Bruce went on a pretty good tear, taking a diverse set of roles in a wide range of genres. Sure, he did the heroic badass a whole lot, but he also made good choices as an actor. Hawk was his first real failure.

Then 2 years later, along came a picture called Striking Distance. It was a thriller set in Pittsburgh, and featured a hot young starlet at the time, Sarah Jessica Parker, fresh off great performances in LA Story and Honeymoon in Vegas.

For the rest of my life, I will remember the incredibly dumb, awfully-worded tagline poster:
They shouldn't have put him in the water, if they didn't want him to make waves.
Isn't that just gloriously bad? Like Homer Simpson's "Mr. Plow" song, it's so bad it becomes entertaining. And it's not just awful use of a cliche - that's not how you use a comma!

SD was a flat-out failure. On a $30M budget, it took $24 Mil. The action and overall tone weren't thrilling enough, the mystery and ending weren't satisfying, and the characters weren't... memorable in a good way.

It was partly due to a mediocre script - lots of token troubled-cop stuff, people just curse at each other for a while... There was also poor characterization. We're supposed to like Bruce's role, but he's worse than a cop-on-the-edge, he's kind of a loser -&nbsp: this detective-who-got-demoted down to being a waterboat cop, patrolling Pittsburgh's rivers, is an obviously angry and bitter drinker.

Several scenes make Bruce look out-of-control, not unpredictable, or unhinged instead of gritty. Only two relationships click here, and Bruce has a sex scene with SJP where she looks kinda scared...

But the flaws kept on rolling in - like the disturbing subject matter: a females-only serial killer with a strong sex assault vibe. And the pic even found bad luck, with Robert Pastorelli, one of the actors, giving away the killer's identity on Letterman.

But I like to not dwell on how poor the movie generally was, how misguided it turned out to be in its violence and tone, or the potential of a film with such a good cast (Braugher, Mahoney, Willis, Parker, Farina, Sizemore)... No, let's not dwell, because there's reason to rejoice. It's that tagline that gets me every time, and its place in the era of Willis.

See, Bruce Willis used to be a bartender in the NYC area. Then he became a comedian and TV actor, landing on the extremely popular show Moonlighting (of which I am a fan). The national attention from this ABC series lead to the inevitable attempt at a movie career.

But unlike so many other actors, Bruce Willis didn't just make a small splash in the film industry. He happened to headline - and give a wonderful, credibility-building performance in - Die Hard, one of the greatest action films ever. He broke through the TV-to-film-star barrier like the Kool-Aid guy going through a wall.

But with a much better score.

Bruce Willis rode Die Hard to greater and greater heights. Whatever you may say about his action pix, he tried his hand at a lot of things while also reaching out to mainstream crowds. He starred in smaller indie pictures, he took bit roles in pet projects. Bruce proved himself to be a massive box-office draw, as well as a pretty good actor, time and time again.

Soon came the Hudson Hawk debacle. And then there was Striking Distance with its stupid poster. Every time I think of it, my mood brightens. No matter how bad my day has been, I laugh. Oh, heaven, that comma...

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