A bunch of well-known faces look lost in “Once Upon a Time in Venice,” which is billed as an action-comedy but has little comedy and less action.
Bruce Willis stars as Steve Ford, a private detective in the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles whom the story puts through various indignities, including a naked skateboard ride, before eventually getting to the main yarn, which involves Steve’s efforts to recover his stolen dog from a drug dealer. Also on hand is John Goodman, playing a good friend of Steve’s who is going through a divorce, a side plot that has no real purpose; Mr. Goodman seems to have no idea how he landed in the movie.
Thomas Middleditch, who needs someone to explain to him the dangers of overexposure, plays his usual bumbling character, a gofer for Steve who also narrates the tale. The barely coherent script (the brothers Robb and Mark Cullen wrote the script, with Mark Cullen directing) involves cocaine, real estate and a man (Adam Goldberg) who wants Steve to find out who keeps painting pornographic graffiti on a building he owns.
The movie tries for propulsive Tarantino grit but ends up being just another annoying example of Hollywood’s addiction to stories in which graying white men bed beautiful young women and beat up men much more youthful and fit than they are.
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