Whilst shot with a pleasant enough style, Max Adams' directorial debut is nothing more than your typical, mundane action film, sandwiched between sexism, superficiality and a less than impressive script. Every summer has one.
Someone needs to rescue Bruce Willis from whatever decisions he has been making recently, or whatever decisions are being made for him. With his heroic, no-nonsense type character becoming somewhat mundane in recent years; his newer roles are being written with more than a taste of, shall we say, optimistic imagination? With every Sin City comes a less than exciting The Prince, with every Looper comes a more than laughable Vice, and with every Die Hard comes a terrifically spineless Precious Cargo. Complete unintentional silliness ensues.
Such an emphasis on the action-star might make it seem as if the film surrounds his character. But that would be far from the truth. The film follows Jack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), a thief who “makes easy money the hard way,” recruited by his manipulative and very pregnant ex-lover Karen (Claire Forlani) for one last job together: stealing a cargo of precious gems to win back ruthless crime boss Eddie’s (Willis) trust. But after the job goes south, lines are crossed and trust becomes no more than a redundant word thrown around like a somewhat deflated beach ball between a few painfully one-dimensional characters.
Willis himself, the name undoubtedly thrown around to draw in as many hopeful action fans and those caught up in the nostalgia of his previous work as possible, is actually involved in as few scenes as it seems he could get away with whilst still being able to have his name in the opening credits. Chuck the name ‘Bruce Willis’ around a few times and you’re guaranteed a thrill ride of fire and explosions and quick-witted dialogue and all that excitement, right? Precious Cargo is indeed some sort of ride through explosions and fire and what was probably intended to be excitement, but what results is hardly thrilling, and is more like a leisurely stroll on slightly windy Sunday afternoon.
The whole film is very run-of-the-mill, although shot with a somewhat exceptional confidence for how plotless it is, with the usual amount of chase sequences, shoot-outs and plot-twists. Plot-twists which can probably be guessed and mapped out before the opening titles even grace the screen. Shoot-outs which obviously always keep our hero alive and unhurt against all odds. Chase sequences which start off clever, witty and promising but then fade into monotony. What started off so promising and so unique only proved to fall into that which it sought to be different from. Shame, really.
But what is the really shameful aspect of Precious Cargo is its portrayal of its female characters. Scenes of abusive behaviour towards women might be meant to reveal the gruesome personalities of our gruesome antagonists, but in that multitude and with that amount of sexualisation, and with the amount of the casual use of the word ‘whore’, such abuse and sexualisation is normalised. Even if said by the shooty-shooty-bad-guys we are clearly not meant to trust; calling any female character a ‘whore’ with such vigour and in such a multitude does indeed make it rebellious, cool, and above all, normal. And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, perhaps it could be ignored if it was an isolated event – but no; with a camera continuously sexualising every female character, even the head-strong, uninsulted ones (there’s actually only one, maybe two, women in the film who aren’t verbally, derogatorily insulted by a man – and this often from the very mouth of our celebrated hero), are subjected to the male gaze. And yet it’s confusing, having female characters able to spar with the male protagonist both physically and verbally but clearly designed with the familiar base-plate of female objectification. It really is a shame.
Precious Cargo might be a little bit of fun for an hour and a half, but it’s nothing original and it’s far from something special. You won’t be impressed coming out the other side, and it’s remarkable the film is even making it to the big screen. With a strange intimacy weaving through its veins, the final result just doesn’t have much finality about it at all, remaining as something that could have so easily been something more but just didn’t reach far enough. And don’t go expecting much from your beloved Bruce Willis either, delivering his lines like they are being said to him through an earpiece – he makes only just enough perfunctory appearances to earn his paycheck.
Precious Cargo is released in the UK by Signature Entertainment on July 15th, certificate TBC.