Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 31, 2022)
Bogie and Bacall.
Tracy and Hepburn.
Willis and Murray?
The first two offer legendary Hollywood couples. The third seems less so, but given current trends, Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray appear eager to join those ranks, as they’ve appeared in three films together across barely a one-year span.
For the latest of these, we go to 2021’s Fortress. Robert Michaels (Willis) lives in a secluded retirement community. To his surprise, he receives a visit from his estranged son Paul (Jesse Metcalfe).
This occasion comes with an unwanted twist, though, when psychotic Frederick Balzary (Murray) follows Paul to this location and attempts to get to Paul. As Paul learns secrets about his dad’s past, Robert and Paul need to fight to survive an assault from Balzary and his team.
In the category of “counting chickens”, 2021’s Fortress acts as only the first of three planned movies. I suspect the crew shot all three at the same time to save money and they figured that the direct-to-video audience would prove populous enough to ensure the desire to release parts two and three.
Hey, anything that allows BFFs Willis and Murray to work together again! Sort of, that is.
If anyone actually wants to see Willis and Murray together, they’ll find little interaction between the actors – and by “little”, I mean “nearly none”.
Willis briefly shares the screen with Metcalfe, Murray and a bizarrely miscast Shannen Doherty, but most of his performance clearly came solo. This stands as the current Willis MO: he puts in maybe two days of work and the filmmakers edit matters in a way that tries to create the illusion he spent more time with his co-stars.
Fortress does beat 2021’s Apex, in which Willis acts with others literally maybe 30 seconds of the flick’s running time. At least Willis occasionally - very occasionally – interacts with castmates here.
Not that a better-integrated performance from Willis would save the mess that is Fortess. A messy, unsteady action flick, this one lacks anything to make it entertaining.
From the very start, Fortress miscalculates, mainly because it tips its hand too early. The story would work better if it introduced Michael and Robert before we saw the terrorists.
With that possible narrative, we get the Big Reveal of Robert’s past and some actual excitement. Instead, because we see Balzary’s soldiers from the very start, the film lacks any sense of surprise or creativity.
The screenplay certainly finds nothing fresh or clever to do with its characters or scenarios. Most of the time it feels like a mix of two prior Willis flicks: Die Hard and Red.
Fortress leans hard on those, but it doesn’t capitalize on their positives. It just tosses action beats into a blender, adds some “crypto/cyber” nonsense and hopes we’ll find ourselves entertained.
We won’t. As usual, Willis appears eager to collect a paycheck and nothing more, as he seems utterly bored with his part. When challenged, Willis can regain his old charm and charisma, but in flicks like this, he just appears disengaged.
Probably still best known as the hot gardener on Desperate Housewives, Metcalfe seems considerably less hunky now. He doesn’t harm his role but he also fails to add much personality.
Perhaps to compensate for all the boredom afoot, Murray plays our main antagonist as an overcaffeinated Batman villain. This feels like a weird choice, and it doesn’t work, though at least Murray’s wild facial expressions and line readings occasionally distract from the basic blandness of the film.
And we have two more of these tales to come! God help me, I’ll probably watch them, if just out of perverse curiosity.
Could Fortress 2 and Fortress 3 be worse than Fortress? Sure – for all its multiple flaws, I can’t call Fortress the crummiest movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s better than the comically terrible Apex.
But regard that as a weak “recommendation”. Fortress lacks coherence in terms of story, characters and tone, and it winds up as an utterly forgettable genre experience.