Detective Knight: Redemption (2022)

If you look at Bruce Willis's filmography, the third to last credit is "Detective Knight: Redemption," and three of the last five are in the "Detective Knight" series. To put this in perspective, this was one of the last movies Willis was in before retiring and being diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. The movies he made at the end of his career were rushed direct-to-video productions effectively shooting and editing around his disability.

I'll get to Redemption in a moment, but the ethics around this are going to take priority. There are really two ways to look at the existence of this movie: either as an exploitative business cashing in on Willis's recognition at the cost of making him into the butt of bad jokes or as a sort of tradeoff where an aging star is provided an opportunity to earn some money they very well might need. Setting aside the fact these scenarios aren't mutually exclusive, I have no idea which is closer to the truth and no idea if we'll ever really know. But the experience of watching a movie starring a Hollywood legend who is clearly in no condition to be on camera is disturbing, to say the least.

So. Let's talk about the movie.

Normally, I'd start by acknowledging that I'm reviewing a sequel without seeing the first installment, and that the lack of context could be affecting my ability to rate the movie. But in this case... sorry, there's no way it matters. There's no context in the Multiverse capable of redeeming this as a movie, let alone a good one.

I went in with what I thought were realistic expectations. I knew the entire "Detective Knight trilogy" was released over a period of months, so I was assuming something closer in quality to television than film. As you've probably guessed, I was giving them far too much credit. The writing and directing were far below anything I've seen on television in ages. At times, this felt closer to public access, or perhaps someone's college project.

The dialogue was particularly egregious; more a mishmash of random cop show cliches than anything resembling real writing. The characters were devoid of voice (I think every male character in the movie with more than a few lines of dialogue refers to another man as "Brother," at least a few times, regardless of their job or background).

The plot, meanwhile, is paper thin, centered on a supposed cat-and-mouse game between a terrorist/bank robber and a legendary cop who - by virtue of the movie existing as a vehicle for a performer unable to play the part - is virtually never on screen.

I mean that quite literally. Willis, despite ostensibly being the main character, only appears sporadically throughout the film. I didn't time it, but I'd be shocked if he was actually present for more than ten or fifteen minutes (and as little as five feels plausible). Even then, he barely speaks, and when he does it's almost always a short, generic line. The movie tries to work around this by having his costars monologue at him when he's present and talk at length about his character when he's not. The effect isn't at all convincing.

Let's talk plot.

Apparently, the last installment ended with Detective Knight killing a pair of suspects and landing in jail alongside another criminal who, for reasons that may or may not have been explained in that movie, Knight feels some sympathy for. While in prison, he also meets Ricky Conlan, a prison chaplain who's secretly also the ringleader for a group of terrorist bank robbers who dress in bloody Santa masks and execute hostages with grenades (the character's gimmick is all but lifted from the opening of The Dark Knight).

Conlan organizes a prison break and brings Knight's friend, Casey, who's initially onboard, then thinks better of it, but gets blackmailed when the terrorists kidnap his family. Despite having an opportunity to escape with the other prisoners, Knight stays behind. The police chief, despite not agreeing with Knight's methods, offers to have charges dropped in exchange for his help in tracking down Conlan. Meanwhile, Knight's former partner, Fitz, travels to New York to investigate the case, despite lacking jurisdiction and being confined to a wheelchair.

Eventually, Knight cracks the case, which by that time involves the revelation that the mayor is working with Conlan for reasons that are never explained and don't make sense. Conlan's actual plan, which Knight figures out randomly, is to scare NY's wealthiest residents into depositing their valuables in a supposedly secure secret bank, which his gang robs on Christmas Eve. Knight shows up and kills all his men, but runs out of bullets in the final confrontation. Before Conlan can kill him, however, Fitz shows up and shoots Conlan from his wheelchair.

In a post-credits sequence, we learn Knight is reinstated as a police detective, because nothing in this universe makes sense.

The movie's politics are as muddled as its plot. On the surface, the movie plays into the same reactionary themes that copaganda nonsense has embraced for decades, with society under threat from dangerous criminals who can only be stopped by individuals so committed to law and order they're quite literally willing to commit murder to maintain it (and needless to say everyone who considers this excessive is weak and ineffective).

Meanwhile, Conlan explains his motivation through a series of speeches about over-incarceration and the police state that reads like it was cribbed verbatim from a leftist website. The weird thing is this all kind of backfires, assuming the movie's surface message was intentional as opposed to a half-hearted attempt to satiate fans of this kind of thing. While Conlan's actions are objectively evil (comically so, in fact), his arguments are pretty level-headed, particularly compared with the cartoonish absurdity of the philosophy espoused by the movie's protagonists. Sure, the idea that justice should be unconstrained and unwavering wins out from the perspective of the story, but the actual arguments regarding an unjust system aren't refuted or even addressed. 

I don't seriously think the movie was trying to subtly push a subversive liberal agenda - frankly, I didn't see anything implying that level of thought went into any aspect of this production - but the end result is sort of the same.

Okay, let's move on to the elephant in the room. Or more often than not, the one not in the room, because - again - Bruce Willis is barely in this thing at all. When he is, it's extremely difficult to watch. My honest impression wasn't of a good or bad performance, but rather the absence of any kind of performance at all. To be clear, that's not intended as a slight against Willis - I truly don't think he was acting, so much as repeating lines in a confused and dispassionate tone. And that's in the rare occasions when he's actually speaking - most of the time he's just listening.

The majority of those scenes are shot in such a way that there's no indication he's actually present with other actors. Entire conversations are shown with the camera cutting back and forth between him and whoever his character is interacting with, rarely if ever showing them onscreen together. As far as I can tell, his character's reactions appear to be almost entirely cobbled together in an editing room.

Again, none of this should reflect back on Willis as a performer, who in a very real sense isn't in this movie in any meaningful way. He clearly wasn't healthy enough to be here, and - even if I'm generous in my assumptions about the producers' intentions towards Willis - the movie is still profoundly exploitative of his fans, who are being sold a product under misleading pretenses.

For what it's worth, there were a few standout performances. Paul Johansson, the actor playing Conlan, does decent work chewing the scenery. I also thought Beau Mirchoff gave a solid performance as the repentant criminal Knight feels sympathy for.

I'm not sure there's much to be said for the movie's holiday aspects that isn't immediately obvious. The movie wants you to think of Die Hard, even invoking that movie's catchphrase through a watered-down, generic version of its own (yes, I know it's also a reference to a similar line in the Halloween-set installment that came before it).

Beyond that, the villain's killer Santa motif, complete with socio-political rants invoking the holidays, is also pretty straightforward. Christmas as contrast to enhance the horrors of violence is a rudimentary trope in this genre - Die Hard didn't really take that route, but the book it was based on certainly did.

Needless to say, this isn't something anyone needs to see. It was made to cash in on Bruce Willis's name and likeness, but there's nothing here to appease fans of the actor or genre.