Hayden Christensen (Outcast with Nicolas Cage . . . and do I really have to mention Star Wars?) is a disconnected, self-centered Wall Street broker who’s estranged from his wife and bullied son. In an attempt to reconnect, and toughen up his son, he decides the best course of action is to take his family on a hunting vacation to the very same cabin where his own father took him—and in the very same woods where bank robbers have just murdered their double-crossing, corrupt police office accomplice.
That’s where First Kill kicks into Hunter’s Blood mode, with Christensen’s fish-out-of-water stockbroker and his weakling son forced to tough up or die as Christensen races against the clock while evading Bruce Willis’s police chief—who believes he was involved in the heist—to recover the stolen money as “ransom” for his kidnapped son.
While watching this third collaborative effort from Bruce Willis and direct-to-video auteur Steven C. Miller (they previous worked on 2015’s Extraction and 2016’s Marauders), and taking into consideration that Willis worked with Sylvester Stallone in the Expendables franchise, I couldn’t help but think of Cop Land (1997). That’s the film where Sly made a valiant attempt to expand his resume beyond the one-dimensional action films of his past (e.g., Cobra) with a film that offered more character-driven content.
Such is the case with Bruce Willis’s Howell who, like Stallone’s Freddy Helflin, is a sheriff who rather not be bothered, but is thrust into “urban western” (well, in this case, “rural western”) circumstances and rises to the challenge. However, don’t go into this expecting John McClane . . . or all Bruce Willis all the time. This is a Hayden Christensen set piece (and the second of a two picture deal with Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films; the other was the 2015 Christian-based family film 90 Minutes in Heaven). And we all know how polarizing Christensen was as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels (he’s really not that bad of an actor).
As with our previous review for Steven C. Miller’s Aaron Eckhart-starring Line of Duty, we’re not going to sugar coat: the reviews on First Kill aren’t good. And Christensen, like Kristen Stewart (Underwater), takes a social media beating for his acting. And Miller’s direct-to-video action thrillers—such as Nicolas Cage’s Arsenal (2017) and Sylvester Stallone’s Escape Plan 2: Hades—are universally derided.
The err of film critics and movie goers (these days, renters) that tend to bash Miller’s work is that they fail to put on their retro-beanies and appreciate that Miller creates ‘90s action movie throwbacks. Think back to the major studio theatrical romps of Die Hard and Cobra, and of Speed and Lethal Weapon. They’re big, they’re dumb, they’re stupid, and they’re improbable. And we love those friggin’ movies.
For me, Miller’s films are like my grandma’s three-meat overloaded spaghetti replete with garlic and bay leaves: I’m not going back for seconds or thirds and ruining my heart and stomach lining, but that single serving is satisfying filling none-the-less. And I always go back for another artery-clogging dinner at grandma’s at a later time.