Directed by: Edward John Drake
Distributed by: Saban Films
Written by: Patrick Hao
The first few lines of every review for a new Bruce Willis direct-to-video action movie are some bemoaning of his output and lack of enthusiasm for the role. At a certain point, his attached name is probably more of a hindrance to a discerning eye than a benefit. But, at a certain point, any hackneyed complaints about Willis, whose average run time in any of his movies is about 15 minutes, is about as hackneyed as the movies he chooses to be in, especially if the rumors about Willis’ ailing health turn out to be true.
“Gasoline Alley” directed by Edward John Drake is the latest of these 15 minute Bruce Willis performances. Drake’s film exhibits more artistry than a lot of the dung that is usually associated with these sorts of dramas. His film is set in the LA underworld in which an ex-con tattoo artist, Jimmy Jayne (Devon Sawa), is implicated in the murder of four nightwalkers when his lighter is found at the scene of the crime. Two police detectives, Bill Freeman (Bruce Willis) and Freddy Vargas (Luke Wilson) are in charge of the investigation, actively pursuing the murderer. Jimmy, refusing to spend another day in prison, takes the investigation into his own hands and finds himself entrenched in the seedy underworld of LA.
Drake is not an untalented filmmaker. In fact, this film’s neo-noir elements and competency in filmmaking recall the artistry of films like Edgar G. Ulmer and the Poverty Row films of the 1940s and 1950s. Those films, made for cheap thrills like the direct to video films, were dirtier than the ultra-crisp studio fare, allowing for the exploration of the seedy underbelly of the urbane. “Gasoline Alley” does not have that subversion, but it is certainly not made for a cheap payday. There are hints of commentary on the LA lifestyle as Jimmy Jayne finds himself interacting with drug traffickers and movie producers, in which Drake asks, “What if they are one and the same.”
While Willis may be sleepwalking through his role, both Devon Sawa and Luke Wilson rise above any of their archetypes with conviction. Sawa, far removed from the pretty-boy persona of his youth, exhibits a toughness needed for film noir characters, while Wilson as a grizzled cop presents the requisite world-weariness. Their no-nonsense approach adds a level of gravitas sorely needed for this material.
If anything, Drake seems to overcompensate with the overuse of neon lighting and lens flare. His overcompensation on the filmmaking side also transferred to the storytelling. The film also falls apart to the ludicrousness of its own plot. As Jimmy Jayne goes deeper into the rabbit hole, the twists and turns become too convoluted and force the viewer to disengage. For these types of films, simplicity is key.
Drake may not be a shining star amongst the muck that Ulmer was. He probably isn’t more than someone who is desperately trying to carve a path in this industry, which I guess is commendable enough. “Gasoline Alley” belongs in the sea of these films. But it certainly isn’t the worst.
“Gasoline Alley” Trailer
“Gasoline Alley” is available on VOD.