Luke Wilson, Devon Sawa, and Bruce Willis in Gasoline Alley (Photo: Saban Films)

By Matt Brunson

★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Edward Drake
STARS Devon Sawa, Bruce Willis

Over the course of the past five years, Bruce Willis has starred in a whopping 28 — count ‘em, twenty-eight — feature films, with at least three more still in post-production. Of those combined 31 projects, Edward Drake has served as writer or, more commonly, as writer-director on six of those movies, all of these being released in 2020 or later. Yet if Gasoline Alley is typical of the sextet (I haven’t seen the others), don’t expect Drake-Willis to ever be elevated to the status of Scorsese-De Niro, Kurosawa-Mifune, Bergman-von Sydow, or other legendary director-star teams with several shared credits. Dugan-Sandler, however, is within reach.

Only a small fraction of these efforts played theatrically in thousands of movie houses — the good (Motherless Brooklyn), the bad (Death Wish), the ugly (Glass), and the animated (The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) — with the rest all heading straight for the home video market either following the most cursory of limited releases imaginable or, in most cases, enjoying no theatrical release at all. And now that it’s been made public that Willis was ill while making the vast majority of these films, suffering from memory loss and often not even knowing where he was or what he was doing, it’s only fair to state that he’s not responsible for any shortcomings in these movies, even ones involving his own performances.

Such is the case with Gasoline Alley, which finds Willis cast as one of two cops investigating the brutal slayings of several prostitutes. (It goes without saying that this film has no relation to the Gasoline Alley comic strip that continues to run in American newspapers after an astounding 104 years.) Willis’ role is a small one, but it’s still large enough to see that he’s not particularly good — had we not known about his condition, it’s a performance I would have written off as “lazy” or “disinterested.”

At any rate, Willis isn’t the problem with Gasoline Alley. And neither is the lead performance, with Devon Sawa (perhaps still best known for starring in the horror twofer Final Destination and Idle Hands circa Y2K) quite good as Jimmy Jayne, a tattoo artist and ex-con who’s the primary suspect in the murder case. In fact, since it appears that detectives Freddy Vargas (a feisty Luke Wilson) and Bill Freeman (Willis) consider him the only suspect, Jimmy decides it’s best that he do his own sleuthing in an effort to find the real killer.

Drake has populated Gasoline Alley with some interesting supporting characters, and he’s blessed to have found the right actors for the roles. Billy Jack Harlow as a gruff mechanic, Sufe Bradshaw as a concerned singer, Kenny Wormald as a pampered actor, and Irina Antonenko as one of the ill-fated call girls all excel in their roles.

Unfortunately, these interesting characters and their attendant thespians are all stranded in a mediocre movie, given only lame dialogue to try to keep them afloat. Very few people in this movie speak naturally — indeed, it’s a wonder these actors do as well as they do with so many stilted sentences to mouth. There’s no flow — and certainly no intrigue — to the proceedings, with Jimmy basically being told to talk to so-and-so, receiving expository dumps that helpfully explain everything, and then moving on to the next fount of information. This pattern is occasionally broken up by the enter-stage-left appearances from Wilson’s Freddy Vargas, a wisecracking clod who’s the Rodney Dangerfield of police procedurals.

With a mystery that isn’t particularly compelling and a visual style best described as flat (even the requisite car chase fails to quicken the pulse), Gasoline Alley proves to be about as incendiary as a rain-soaked rag.

(Gasoline Alley is available on DVD, streaming on Hulu, and available for rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and VUDU.)


Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Death Wish (2018)
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Motherless Brooklyn

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