The flip side of his filmography
The B-Sides is a series from Feature Presentation highlighting the underseen, underrated, and underappreciated gems of a filmography, genre, or theme.
A week ago, Bruce Willis’ family passed on a message to his fans: The film and television star would be retiring after developing aphasia, a cognitive condition that makes it hard to understand and use language.
Bruce is still with us and his family is taking care of him, but after the next few VOD movies come out, his filmography is finalized. That resume includes Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, Looper, and many more all-timers.
Let’s explore a few films of his that deserve a reevaluation.
Hudson Hawk (1991)
Hudson Hawk has just been released from ten years of prison and is planning to spend the rest of his life honestly. But then the crazy Mayflower couple blackmail him to steal some of the works of Leonardo da Vinci. If he refuses, they threaten to kill his friend Tommy.
I knew about Hudson Hawk long before I actually saw it. Its reputation precedes it.
That reputation is of a sporadically funny, often lousy attempt at slapstick, disguised under a conspiracy-based heist. I can see why many think that, and yeah, maybe Bruce isn’t the best writer. But I think it’s a charming, frequently clever, enjoyable little passion project.
With a lot of goodwill from Die Hard, Bruce got to make the movie he wanted to make. And that’s what the B-sides are. It’s not perfect. It’s a bit repetitive, swings and misses a few times, and can feel much longer than its hour-forty runtime. Deserving of a Razzie for Worst Picture? Absolutely not.
Comedies are often as good as their memorable moments, and Hudson Hawk deploys a few: the synchronized singing, numerous Dad jokes, Bruce as a real-life Bugs Bunny. That energy is what so many love about him. That energy is all throughout this movie.
Last Man Standing (1996)
John Smith is a mysterious stranger who is drawn into a vicious war between two Prohibition-era gangs. In a dangerous game, he switches allegiances from one to another, offering his services to the highest bidder. As the death toll mounts, Smith takes the law into his own hands in a deadly race to stay alive.
Unlike A Fistful of Dollars, 1996’s Last Man Standing actually credits Yojimbo as its source material and calls itself a remake. All three movies are stories of a lone man without ties who finds himself in the middle of two rival gangs, ultimately deciding to work for both.
Bruce is playing a role made famous by both Toshiro Mifune and Clint Eastwood. Those are some pretty gnarly comparisons, but he holds his own in this performance. Playing “John Smith,” Bruce is so great at never showing his cards to either gang, or to the audience for that matter. If you’re familiar with this story, you know how this will go. But Bruce’s mysterious performance will keep you questioning just how much he’ll pull it off.
He also leads an excellent ensemble cast: Christopher Walken, Bruce Dern, a pre-Sopranos Michael Imperioli, and a young Leslie Mann, among others.
And they’re all brought together by the legendary director Walter Hill. I’ve yet to see a Hill movie that I don’t like, so when I was searching for some Bruce B-sides and discovered he made this movie with only 20k watches on Letterboxd, I ran to watch it. It didn’t disappoint.
Midnight in the Switchgrass (2021)
FBI Agent Karl Helter and his partner Rebecca Lombardo are very close to busting a sex-trafficking ring. When they realize their investigation has crossed the path of a brutal serial killer, they team up with a Texas Ranger to put an end to the infamous ‘Truck Stop Killer’.
The past few years have seen an explosion of Bruce VOD movies. He got a lot of flack for them, but now we know why he made them.
So I thought it would be fitting to choose one of those Redbox rentals and celebrate the good in them.
Midnight in the Switchgrass is messy, of course. It’s cheap. But there’s also a certain charm to it. Bruce is a part of that charm. So is the “co-lead” Megan Fox. And it’s a shame they only spent about half of a day together on set because a Willis-Fox pairing had potential. They both have a dry sarcasm that I think could have worked really well.
But Bruce is surrounded by an enjoyable enough thriller that gives vibes of your favorite show on Ion Television. It’s got a funky cast, a decent cat and mouse, and enough chuckles to keep you invested even if the mystery doesn’t.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.