Bruce Willis is having an interesting stretch in this, the latter part of his career. It’s also a familiar one. Like many stars of the past, he is either unwilling, or unable, to take on parts in big budget Hollywood flicks or prestige films. Rather, he has spent the last half-decade or so in b-movie schlock. Sure, he turned up in Glass, and Eli Roth’s underrated remake of Death Wish, but this is overshadowed by his roles in films like Hard Kill, Breach, and today’s subject, Cosmic Sin.
The thing I find most amusing about this turn is that Willis always seems to play the same character in every film — a roguish antihero who joins the cause reluctantly. Watching the first act of these films, one can imagine that it mirrors the process that filmmakers had to go through to convince Willis to be in their movies.
For instance, in Cosmic Sin, Willis plays James Ford, a former army colonel who left the service in disgrace, but now he’s needed to save the day. There is the familiar scene early on where a supporting cast member has to make their pitch, and Willis, looking as if he would rather be anywhere else but in this movie, responds with a terse, “No.” This is the part of the process before any money has been mentioned. It goes on:
“The whole world needs you.”
“Well, the world needs something. They made it clear that it’s not me.” Willis, aka Ford, responds, lamenting both the fate of his character, and that of old A-listers.
Then follows the carrot, as the pitch man in the movie offers to reinstate Ford to his command, while out in the real world, a salary offer has been made to Willis. The deal is done. Ford has agreed to save the day, and Willis has agreed to be in the movie. Cynical? Sure, but cynical is not a synonym for unbelievable.
What makes Willis’s roles in films like Cosmic Sin different from the shitty movies of Nicolas Cage, is that Willis is bathed in contempt, as if he is somehow above the very film he has agreed to be in. He’ll cash the check, but his ego doesn’t seem to allow him to put forth much effort, or show any sort of enthusiasm for a role. Contrast that with Cage. When a filmmaker hires Nic Cage to be in their bad movie, they will be getting a performer who will give their all, for good or bad. That is why Nicolas Cage is the Official Performer of Shitty Movie Sundays, and continues to get roles in a wide variety of films, while Willis now shares a similar space with Telly Savalas or, in the extreme, John Carradine. Even Michael Caine showed more regard for some of the trash he was in than Willis. Anyway…
From 2021, Cosmic Sin comes to us via director Edward Drake, who also wrote the screenplay with producer Corey Large. Large, as is the prerogative of a moneyman in a b-movie, also has a substantial role as Ford’s sidekick, Dash.
It’s the future! In the 26th century, humankind has conquered the stars. Some form of quantum tech allows ships to teleport to distant systems. Unlike Star Trek, where first contact with alien races is a joyful occasion, Drake and Large subscribe to the Dark Forest theory of alien contact. That is, any contact with a sapient alien civilization in an instant threat. We would pose such a danger to each other that the only option is complete and total destruction of the other. No reconciliation. No dialogue. The best outcome to be had, in fact, is complete and total ignorance of each other’s existences. Chinese author Liu Cixin explored this idea in three of the most existentially frightening sci-fi novels one will ever read, and Drake and Large appear to have been influenced by this.
After a first contact on a colony world has gone awry, Ford is enlisted to join a small military mission that is tasked with locating the alien home world, and dropping a ‘quantum bomb’ that will generate a blackhole and swallow the system in its entirety, thereby ending the alien threat.
Early on in the film, it’s not clear if the aliens are inherently hostile, or if a misunderstanding has led to the aliens being hostile. The aliens are a hivemind that has the ability to infect humans like a virus, turning people into vessels for a foreign intelligence. This has the wonderful benefit of relieving the production from having to make any actual aliens. By the end of the film, any ambiguity about the aliens’ motives has been excised. It’s hard to complain about such a narrative copout from a film like this. The ideas had already exceeded any expectations I had going in.
Indeed, this is a shitty movie, but only barely so. The ideas are complex for a sci-fi cheapie, and the production quality, including CGI, is better than one would expect. This film was distributed by Saban Films, which is carrying on the b-movie legacy of companies like American International or Crown International. That is, when they get their hands on a somewhat decent movie, it’s usually by accident.
This feels like a film that probably caught Large, and everyone else, off guard by how watchable it was. It stinks, as does the dialogue, the general quality of the acting (the wet paper bag award for this flick goes to pro wrestler CJ Perry, aka Lana), and Bruce Willis’s attitude. The ideas, combined with the pacing, elevate this film to the same quality as an ambitious TV movie or episode of the aforementioned Star Trek. It might be the best film I’ve seen distributed by Haim Saban.
One can watch Cosmic Sin for it’s surprising qualities, or one can watch it to see a bitter old man ply his trade. I prefer the latter, but it really was the former that kept me engaged.
Despite all the praise, Cosmic Sin is up against some stiff competition in the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index, so it settles into the mediocre middle, displacing Critters 3 in the #220 spot. One could do worse.