To get his ex Karen (Claire Forlani) out of trouble with Mob boss Eddie (Bruce Willis) after a heist goes wrong, career criminal Jack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) gets together a crew to pull off a daring heist to lift valuable gems. Can he do this and keep his new relationship with nice vet Jenna (Lydia Hull) intact?
More at a home in a Runcorn video shop circa 1994 than on a big screen in 2016, Precious Cargo is a compendium of DTV action tropes masquerading as a movie. Based on his short, Max Adams’ debut feature pitches — for the first time — Saved By The Bell’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar (he was Zack Morris) against Die Hard’s Bruce Willis (he was John McClane) and sits back to watch the sparks fly. Unfortunately they don’t, leaving just reheated action licks, wooden dialogue and eminently guessable twists. It also might include the most interminable title sequence of the year — shonky cut-outs of the characters backed by a crass AOR tune that drones on for what seems like forever.
The “precious cargo” of the title is $30 million in rare gems. Good-hearted criminal Jack is convinced by fellow thief and his ex Karen (welcome back Claire Forlani) to steal the rare jewels to get her out of the clutches of ruthless, sharp-suited crime boss Eddie. Cue lots of Mr. & Mrs. Smith-esque back and forth between the bullets from Gosselaar and Forlani, Jack getting his crew of misfits back together (the getaway driver is a drunk, the explosives dude is under the thumb), the heist planned with toy cars and a frenetic last reel high on stunts but low on actual excitement. There is a good bit where spark plugs are used to shatter bullet-proof glass (who knew?), but we have been here so many times before: John Woo slow-motion wooshes, villians in black 4x4s, good guys in bars lit by neon Bud Light signs, screaming electric guitar and a barrage of blunt bon mots: “Look alive people”, “It’s showtime” and “Let’s rock ’n’ roll” all get an outing.
It is sad to see Bruce Willis' magnificent talent on autopilot.
Willis has form in this arena (The Prince, Vice, Extraction) but it is still sad to see his magnificent talent, the actor of Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense and Nobody’s Fool, on autopilot. In his grand total of eight scenes, he is an off-the-peg crime boss, the thoughtful type who can drop an extended chess-is-a-metaphor-for-life monologue. At least Nicolas Cage energises his generic dreck. While we’re on the villians, there is also a bizarre scene in which Eddie’s goon Simon (Daniel Bernhardt) — perhaps cinema’s only henchman called Simon — inexplicably gives his boss’ bikini-clad harem sound financial advice.
There are some tweaks to the formula. The standard bread-and-butter exposition scene is souped up by taking place in the middle of a (decent) boat chase. The friendship between Jack and sardonic sharpshooter Logan (a promising Jenna B. Kelly) is played without a hint of flirtation, a relationship based on equals in a film teeming with poor portrayals of women. And Gosselaar himself gives Jack a gruff appeal and energy that isn’t present in the writing.
Like a ’70s Burt Reynolds comedy or ’80s Jackie Chan flick, this tough action-thriller ends with comedy outtakes over the end credits that suggest everyone had a great time on set. Some of that does spill into the main feature. Precious Cargo isn’t an unlikable film. It’s just a redundant one.
Precious Cargo is a film out of time. In the ’90s it would have been a serviceable DTV alternative when the Van Damme/Jeff Wincott flick was out at Blockbuster. These days it is a lacklustre anachronism. Bruce Willis should really know better.