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May 22, 2007

Build 'em up...Tear 'em down. (kinda)

I guess all the press surrounding Live Free or Die Hard is just getting to me. There's only so much I can take, reading about how John McClane is an "analog hero in a digital world." Really? Do we really know (much less care) that much about John McClane to say that he hates technology? It's not like there's really all that much "character" written into your standard action flick and, good as they are, the Die Hard series still isn't Shakespeare. Besides, this is still the guy who uttered the cornball line "Just the fax, ma'am" in Die Hard 2. But the technological savvy of the former alcoholic McClane (and subsequent speculation his digital prowess) is what got me to thinking about how "hack-y" Bruce Willis had become. Overhyped films will tend to annoy you like that.

Unfortunately, I can't say that I have much of a case for "tearing Willis down" to put forth, as a glance at Willis' filmography demostrates little to no change in the overall quality (or volume) of films that he has produced over the past two decades.

See, aside from the the barrage of media for Live Free, I'm also reminded of the recent stinkbomb Perfect Stranger, not to mention the commercial failure of 16 Blocks ($37 million) and Lucky Number Slevin ($22 million). However, Willis has also recently had hits with Over the Hedge ($155 million), Sin City ($74 million), and Grindhouse (critically only).

Looking back through his filmography, a similar pattern seems to emerge. Willis' hit to stinker ratio is roughly 3.5:1, and he's done that with remarkable consistency throughout his career. Choose any sampling period and they all pretty much look the same. First, let's look at the beginning of his career, starting with the film that made him who he is today, Die Hard, in 1988. After that came:

* In Country
* Look Who's Talking
* Die Hard 2
* Look Who's Talking 2
* The Bonfire of the Vanities

Not a terrible stretch, I suppose, but not great, either. For reference, the IMDb rating (out of 10) for each of those (respectively) is 5.6, 5.4, 6.8, 3.7, and 5.0 (the first Die Hard scores an 8.1).

Moving along, 1994 brought a renaissance of sorts for Willis, with the gigantic commercial, critical, and cultural success of Pulp Fiction (it holds an 8.8 rating, good enough for the 5th ranked film in IMDb's database). After that came:

* North (4.1)
* Color of Night (4.6)
* Nobody's Fool (7.1)
* Die Hard: With a Vengeance (7.1)
* Four Rooms (6.1), and
* Twelve Monkeys (8.0, and the 189th ranked overall)

In fact, from Pulp to Monkeys is easily Bruce's glory stretch. After that, not so much. Sure, there have been some good films sprinkled in over the last decade (Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, The Fifth Element, and the films mentioned at the top of this post), but the clunkers are often and unmistakable (The Story of Us, Bandits, Mercury Rising, The Whole Nine [and Ten] Yards, Hart's War).

So goes Bruce's career. While not nearly the money grubbing hound that Nic Cage has become, nor the film slut that Travolta is, Willis has tendencies in common with both, but manages to get a critical or commercial hit (or both) thrown into the mix every now and then.

I guess my point (or wish, being someone who generally likes Willis) is that I would like to see Bruce show some restraint. The guy is obviously talented as an actor (see Sixth Sense or Twelve Monkeys for examples) and can't possibly be hurting for money, so why not take one fewer project a year to even out that ratio, and, in the end, possibly restore some of that mid-'90s lustre back to his career?

Either way, just shut up about the personality traits of one John McClane. As if anyone really gives a sh*t.

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