Thin ‘Acts of Violence’ committed to showing women in distress

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Bruce Willis (left) plays a cop on the trail of human traffickers in “Acts of Violence.” | LIONSGATE PREMIERE

The title “Acts of Violence” has less to do with the storyline of the movie it graces and is more about what’s perpetrated against the audience watching it.

It’s barely the running length of a feature film and still barely scrapes together enough plot and character development to fill its less-than-90 minutes. Bruce Willisgets top billing in this inept crime drama but is only in the movie for, charitably, a cumulative 10 minutes – the bare minimum, one would hope, necessary to collect a paycheck and jet.

He plays Detective James Avery,who lets you know what kind of cop his character is at the outset when he watches a criminal fall to his death from a rooftop. “You’re a cop!” the bad guy beseeches as he dangles precariously from the ledge. “Sayonara,” Avery replies with a snarl. Of course when Avery gets back to his desk, there’s a pint of Jim Beamin the drawer. This is a movie that speaks its themes entirely in cliches and shorthand.

He needs a stiff drink because there are too many dead girls in his jurisdiction, victims of sex trafficking and cheap drugs laced with powerful synthetic opioids. And now there’s one more missing woman on his hands. At her bachelorette party, Mia (Melissa Bologna) mouths off to the wrong drug dealer at the club, and her attitude lands her tied up in the back of a van.

Miles away in the lapdance room of a strip club, her fiancé Roman (Ashton Holmes) immediately intuits something’s happened to Mia. Instead of relying on the police to do their job, he enlists the help of his ex-military brothers, Brandon (Shawn Ashmore)and Deklan (Cole Hauser),a brooding man with PTSD, unchecked anger issues and an itchy trigger finger. Forget the bachelor party: These brothers gear up and play Rambo in a bid to get Mia back.

The writing is risible. The heroes return to their home after it’s been attacked, as if the bad guys won’t know where to find them again. Within 10 seconds of examining the body of a dead girl, Avery discovers a GPS tracker implant the forensic pathologist missed. Kidnapped women squirm free of their bindings whenever it’s convenient for the plot. At a heartwarming family gathering in the run-up to a highly anticipated wedding, the fiancée implores her doting husband-to-be to hit up the strip club so he can bond with his brothers. When he demurs, she insists. “You’re going to see me naked for the rest of your life.”

The filmmakers don’t know how to write women, nor how to treat them as subjects. Deep in the den of a human trafficking ring, there are gaudy, lingering close-ups of women in peril that could at first glance be mistaken for bondage porn. When terrible things are done to women, it isn’t in the service of some bigger cultural or artistic point – it’s so the men can redeem themselves.

“Acts of Violence” displays so muchempty reverence to values like brotherhood, family, honor and service, but clearly knows nothing about them.

Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY Network

Lionsgate Premiere presents a film directed by Bruce Donowho and written by Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto. Rated R (for violence, language throughout, sexuality/nudity and drug material). Running time: 86 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC South Barrington and on demand.

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