Bruce Willis looks ready for a nap in Cosmic Sin (now in cinemas), which listlessly tells a recycled storyline involving going to war with an alien species. Here’s critic Luke Buckmaster’s review.
Bruce Willis dons his best Buzz Lightyear outfit—with chunky orange armor and lights illuminating his face and shoulders—in director Edward Drake’s ploddingly paced action/sci-fi Cosmic Sin. It’s the sort of modestly budgeted genre movie for which the word “best” will admittedly not be the first descriptor that comes to mind for many viewers, and certainly not for the critics, except perhaps as a precursor to “avoided”.
Aspiring to channel the spirit of blockbuster largesse without the budget, it is the kind of picture one expects to go straight to digital—or, in the days of yore, straight to DVD or straight to video. But in the days of COVID-19 all bets are off, and this cut-rate B movie about an alien species threatening our very existence a yada yada experiences the prestige of a cinema release.
The premise is that—in the year 2524—a group of Americans launch a secret preemptive war against aforementioned aliens, in order to whoop ET’s arse before ET develops too great an ability to whoop ours. At least that’s the logic. Bruce Willis plays James Ford, a generic name for a generic character: a former general brought back into the fold “for a situation that may change the cosmos”—in the words of a dude in a black beret who comes up to him at a bar.
Ford initially rejects the mission but of course will reverse his decision, teaming up with the hardcore General Ryle—played by the hardcore Frank Grillo—for a hardcore mission that, we expect, will shift old mate Bruce’s mode from ‘sleepy nonchalance’ to something a little more…hardcore. And we would be wrong. Nothing shifts Bruce out of his semi-comatose state.
Drake, who co-wrote the screenplay with Corey Large, wants to have it both ways, painting the mission as morally dubious while also presenting the aliens as evil scum who deserve to—must—die. At one point Ford—who previously dropped a bomb that killed 70 million people, because backstory, antihero, etcetera—declares to his team that, whatever happens, “we’ll be on the wrong side of history”. Not exactly the most inspirational speech ever delivered.
Luckily the team includes Dr. Lea Goss (Perrey Reeves), who once wrote a thesis on behavioural biology, which might have come in handy—were these two tough guys capable of listening. “To kill a culture is to kill the very idea of creation”, Goss says, in a slab of dialogue marked “profound”. General Hardcore is clearly just thinking: “kill, yes, when do we get to kill?”
Audiences excited by the prospect of bloody spectacle, or even just spectacle, or even just action of some variety, may be wondering the same thing. Much of Cosmic Sin consists of conversations about how the supposedly elite team might go into battle, or should go into battle, or will go into battle, and once engaged they will battle battle battle.
Lots of talk; little battle. I was hoping at least for some wacky looking aliens, but instead, in a rare moment of conflict early on, I observed what appeared to be an Emo with a nervous twitch, coughing up weird black sludge. Is this an alien or a person who listens to bad music and smokes a lot?
The director, you see, follows the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers model, with aliens disguising themselves as humans. But instead of this decision evoking dread-inducing suspense it smacks of penny-pinching tactics; what better way to save money on costumes and effects than by making the aliens look like us?
As cynical as that may sound, credit where credit is due: Cosmic Sin does look aesthetically impressive, to a degree, with a tightly controlled look boosted by strong production design and neon lighting with a thick electric glow—almost like a Nicolas Winding Refn film. But this is all visual scaffolding, waiting to be filled by characters, action, conflict, drama. The film is vacuous on all these fronts. And the characters feel bizarrely disconnected from each other, even when inhabiting the same physical space; they have the intimacy of a couple of phone books stacked on top of each other.
As for Bruce Willis: despite the Buzz Lightyear getup—or perhaps because of it—this man will not, cannot be hurried, adding to a growing collection of performances in which he barely seems capable of staying awake let alone saving the world. Maybe he, like us, is bored by a script that drops words such as “quantum warp teach” to try to convince us it is not moronically stupid. You didn’t need to go to infinity and beyond, Brucey boy—but a little bit of effort would have been nice.