With the recent announcement that Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with aphasia, he is set to retire. Last year, he released seven movies, all of which didn’t get good reviews and most of them went to video on demand. It seems for the past 10 years, Willis was just making these movies only for the multi-million dollar paychecks and his name above the title indicating he would have a higher role in the movie, but actuality, most were just supporting roles that he filmed in a week or two.
I remember seeing The Cold Light of the Day only to realize he was maybe in it for 10-15 minutes. There were a few highlights. Looper had a pretty good basis and SPOILER ALERT!!, he’s actually the villain. What a twist.
There was his surprise cameo in Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and Motherless Brooklyn, directed by Edward Norton, both received good reviews as they were released theatrically. But he mostly made direct-to-video movies in the last 10 years. Major roles in the Death Wish remake and Glass didn’t do much to help his popularity as was the case earlier in his career. Glass was actually a success at the box office even though it wasn’t with the critics.
But Willis has always been an anomaly in Hollywood. Known for the comedy-drama show Moonlighting and the Blake Edwards comedy Blind Date by the time he starred as John McClane in Die Hard, audiences reportedly began laughing when they saw him in the trailer.
But the surprise success of the movie spawned a sequel, but reportedly, by then, Willis who had just been a TV actor in the 1980s was already starting to throw his weight around Hollywood. Die Hard 2 and Look Who’s Talking were both successful.
But by 1991, there was trouble as he butted heads with director Tony Scott and producer Joel Silver on the set of The Last Boy Scout. Scott called it the worst filmmaking experience of his career. And Willis and Silver, who’s also known for his belligerent behavior, had a falling out that when the third Die Hard movie was released, Silver didn’t produce it. The 1991 summer movie season also gave us Hudson Hawk, the infamous action-comedy-heist movie that is synonymous with box office failures. Oh, he was also in the infamously reviled The Bonfire of the Vanities.
Almost immediately, Willis was considered bad luck in the movie industry. Even small roles in Billy Bathgate and North didn’t help his clout. He basically slept-walked through the special effects movie Death Becomes Her, which didn’t really require him to do much, except react to Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn.
So, by 1994, after only a few hit movies (and reports that Willis’ ego was writing checks that were bouncing left and right), there was good buzz as his smaller roles in Pulp Fiction and Nobody’s Fool were actually getting some good reviews.
But, first, audiences were going to have to endure Color of Night, one of those erotic thrillers which had sprung up following the success of Basic Instinct. You could describe it as a cross between Basic Instinct and The Crying Game. There’s no way you can review this movie without letting out some the spoilers, but I’ll try my best. And it’s been 28 years! And it’s a Bruce Willis movie! It’s not like his character is a ghost for the whole movie. (Apologies to whoever hasn’t seen that movie.)
Willis plays Dr. Bill Capa, a New York City-based psychologist, who develops psychosomatic color blindness after a suicidal patient jumps out of his high-rise office building to her death on the streets below. Looking down, he can’t see the blood color red, which turns grey. This will be used later in a scene that actually is well used technically.
Capa decides to take some time off and visit an old friend and colleague, Dr. Bob Moore (Scott Bakula) who works in Los Angeles. Capa sits in on a group therapy session of Moore’s, which does nothing more than establish a list of suspects because Moore is later murdered in his office one evening.
Lt. Hector Martinez (Ruben Blades playing the role as if he needs therapy himself) is immediately critical of Capa but he is critical and suspicious of anyone, even reading his colleague, Anderson (Eriq La Salle) ,the riot act for getting Capa a coffee during what’s supposed to be informal questioning.
Capa continues to live in Moore’s posh house, drive his convertible luxury car and even takes over the group therapy session. Naturally, the police would think Capa is the prime suspect. Capa also meets a young woman, Rose (Jane March) who accidentally rear-ends him but since Capa is smitten by her beauty and dingbat attitude, he realizes he wants to have sex with her more than getting the damage fixed.
And that’s basically the relationship they have throughout the whole movie. She shows up every now and again and they have sex. They have sex in the pool, on what I’m suspecting is Moore’s bed (which is odd when you consider a twist later on) and in the shower, so we can see the young March press her breasts up against the shower glass. It’s at this point, I must say Color of Night wasn’t a success at the box office but there was a director’s cut on home video, which also showed Bruce’s willy and a longer sex scene. (I must remind some of the younger readers that DVDs weren’t out at this time so they were released on VHS cassette tapes, so some people probably rented them with worn tracking issues during the sex scenes.)
Now, on to the group therapy. They are your basically motley crew of walking characters that might have been written in an Agatha Christie parody. Sonda Dorio (Lesley Ann Warren) is a middle-aged nymphomaniac who loves shopping and sex. Clark (Brad Dourif) is an anal-retentive neat freak with obsessive compulsory disorder. Oh, we find out, Sondra and Clark had a relationship that turned violent.
There’s also Casey Heinz (Kevin O’Connor) the twisted artist/painter who lives in an abandoned warehouse/loft and is a trust-fund baby. Buck (Lance Henriksen) we find out is a former police officer struggling with grief following the murder of his wife and daughter in a fatal shooting that he survived. There’s also Richie, who is a young man with a bad stutter.
If you noticed, I didn’t indicate who plays Richie, but I already mentioned the actor earlier. It’s quite obvious from the first time we see Richie what his secret is. And of course, if you knew anything about movies like this, you would know it follows the Law of the Most Extraneous Character. If there is every a character that appears once, usually twice in short scenes earlier on in the movie, that character is most likely the killer.
And the killer obviously has a clairvoyance to see where characters will be. In one of the most ludicrously staged scenes ever, Capa is actually walking at the ground level near a parking garage and the killer in a car is able to stalk up him several stories up driving the car, even though there’s no way, any driver no matter how good their eyesight could see Wilis’ character from that angle. But this scene also has the killer track Capa but have the correct timing to push a parked car over the railing just missing Capa on the ground.
The director’s cut actually has some scenes that add some depth to the movie and give La Salle more than just a literal walk-on role. It turns out that Buck and Martinez were former partners and have a history. There’s also an extended scene in which Sondra goes out for a night on the town with her young friend, Bonnie, who is actually Rose and they almost have sex. I won’t give much more away.
My guess was that the script co-written by first-timer Billy Ray may have been a standard thriller, but the success of Basic Instinct prompted producers who own the rights to it to make it sexier and Matthew Chapman, who had written the (not)erotic thriller Consenting Adults was brought on to help Ray with the script.
Yet, for some reason, it was deemed too much and cut to obtain an R-rating. Color of Night was released through Disney of all major distributors under their defunct Hollywood Pictures banner. While they had produced R-rating movies before for many years. Most of them didn’t have the sexual content this one has. That’s why I guess the scene between Sondra and Bonnie was cut even though they don’t ever have sex.
In the end the movie just falls apart. Without the addition scene of March as Bonnie using her native British accent, the other scene between Bonnie and Sondra where she is nearly discovered by Capa doesn’t exactly fit right. Also the scene between Capa and Anderson talking adds some explanation to both the behavior of Buck and Martinez that explains Martinez’s character and a later reveal by Buck.
But it still doesn’t make the movie all that good, just a polished turd. The whole plot and acting is outrageous. While this has been expected from Willis and some of the other cast members by 1994, the one you feel sorry for is March. She was only 20 at the time of filming and looks like she’s 13 as you can see in the above pictured. I searched through all the photos online to try to find something that didn’t look like it’d get me in trouble with the FBI.
Off-screen, March married one of the producers Carmine Zozzora, who was also a friend of Willis’, and her acting career staggered throughout the rest of the 1990s as Zozzora reportedly would only allow her to take roles if he was hired as a producer. This was only her second movie after appearing in The Lover in 1992, made when she was only 18 and it’s obvious she was only hired for this movie on account of that movie’s sex scenes.
For a complex role of Rose/Bonnie, you need a more experienced actress. It’s not really March’s fault. She does what she can with the material. But the material wasn’t the best. March got a nomination for Worst Actress at the Golden Raspberry Awards, as did Willis, Warren and basically the entire cast as any couple appearing on screen was Worst Couple. Richard Rush also got a nomination for Worst Director. But the movie only won Worst Picture.
As for Willis, he went on to have some career highs in the later half of the 1990s. Pulp Fiction and Nobody’s Fool made critics take notice. He appeared in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, possibly his best role in my opinion and then made The Sixth Sense, which was nominated for Best Picture. (As I previously mentioned, Willis only made that movie and Armageddon to get out of a multi-million dollar lawsuit with Disney for leaving preproduction on another unproduced movie, Broadway Bawler.)
But a new decade and new century didn’t bring much to Willis’ career as he began to fall into similar characters and by the end of the 2000s began to appear in direct-to-video movies. The Razzies have rescinded their Bruce Willis Award category for this past year.
Yet with all due respect, it’s not like his medical condition has been around for the past four decades. I’m only mentioning his singing career in passing to show that sometimes you make bad choices with a clear mind and no illness affecting you.
And in closing it’s sad to hear him diagnosed. No one should suffer from that. But maybe Willis’ popularity might shed some new light on it the way Jada Pinkett Smith has shed new light on alopecia.
What do you think? Please comment.