Regular readers of Shitty Movie Sundays will know that we have quite the appreciation for Nicolas Cage. He’s past the heady days of A-list stardom and has settled into a late career of appearing in small prestige projects and shitty movies alike, to the tune of six or so productions a year. He’s not the first aging star to enter the magical land of b-movies paydays. In fact, he’s not the only actor who has been prolific in the realm of late. Bruce Willis has spent the last decade padding his IMDb page with substandard action and thriller fare, racking up eight credits in 2021 alone.
Unlike Cage, who has done nothing but burnish his legacy, to the point where he plays a fictional version of himself in his latest film, Willis’s performances of late have seemed to be nothing but a bother to him. In films like Breach or Cosmic Sin, Willis has seemed as if he wanted to be anywhere else but in the movie, and his deliveries have been dripping with sneering contempt. It would be off-putting were it not a source of hilarity for the shitty movie fan.
However, news came this past month that Willis is retiring from acting, owing to a diagnosis of aphasia, a cognitive condition that affects speech. He hasn’t chosen to share what is causing the aphasia, but it’s generally nothing nice.
Knowing that he has aphasia, and that he has apparently been suffering from it for the past couple of years, paints his performances in a new light. Rather than mailing it in, it looks as if he has been struggling to say his lines. That is never more apparent than in Fortress, the first film in a shitty movie trilogy that made its video debut late last year.
Directed by James Cullen Bressack from a screenplay by Alan Horsnail (Emile Hirsch has a story credit), Willis stars alongside Jesse Metcalfe as father and son Robert and Paul Michaels.
Robert has taken up residence at a secure retirement community in the middle of nowhere (the film was shot in Puerto Rico). Paul is the owner of a cryptocurrency exchange that is foundering, and is visiting his estranged father in the hopes of getting his signature on some important financial docs that Paul hopes will save his company. Before that can happen, a group of commandos storms the place and starts shooting up the residents.
It turns out that the retirement community is, in fact, a U.S. government facility where deep cover agents whose identities have been compromised can live out the remainder of their days in safety. That was exactly what Robert was doing before the commandos tailed his son to this secret hideaway.
To make matters worse, the commandos aren’t there just to shoot up a bunch of old spies. The commandos, led by the dapper Balzary (Chad Michael Murray) are there because Robert’s last mission was stealing 650 million bucks from a bunch of different bad guys and hiding it away somewhere in the internet, and they need Robert’s password to get it. Yep, that’s the plot.
Anyone who has seen a low-effort action thriller knows how this movie plays out. The interesting bits of this film all revolve around Willis. His acting is, without hyperbole, awful. Knowing about his medical condition, it becomes obvious why his lines are short, and consist mostly of one-syllable words and timeworn action flick clichés. It was all he could handle. And that’s a shame. There are a couple of moments scattered here and there where the old Willis charm makes an appearance — when the laughter and wit of John McClain come through. Most of the time, though, Willis is plopped in a chair with an angry grimace on his face.
I wanted to keep this post from being a lament about Willis, but that was impossible. Since the aphasia announcement, the real world has intruded into Fortress and there’s nothing the filmmakers could have done about it. Except, perhaps, make a better movie.
For the shitty movie fan, there are some wonderful moments of silliness and narrative inconsistency.
Early on, one of the commandos remarks that there are nine of them on their mission, yet over the course of the film, a good deal more are dispatched by the good guys.
Paul’s company is falling apart and he’s desperate to save it, right? Well, as it happens, the retirement home for spies is in a dark spot for internet connectivity. Never fear, though, Paul has invented a computer device he calls a ‘wave rider’ that can connect to the internet anywhere on the planet, for free. The screenplay has Paul completely wrapped up in crypto, even though he’s carrying around a billion-dollar invention in his laptop bag.
The top shit in this flick, however, is Sergeant Blain (Michael Serow). He’s a character that appears out of nowhere at multiple points in the film, spouts some lines, kills some bad guys, and disappears for a few scenes. He’s comic relief in a film that is otherwise serious. Also, if one looks closely, he never shares a shot with any of the principle cast, except body doubles, even though he is inserted into their scenes. His character is very much out of place, and was obviously added after everyone else’s scenes had been shot. The incongruity is astounding, and is peak shitty moviemaking. Bressack, and whichever producer insisted on this travesty of a character, I salute you. You kept this flick from being a total drag.
Still, Fortress falls into the bottom half of the Watchability Index, displacing Armed Response at #322. There’s not much of a reason to bother with it.