Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Rooker, Bruce Willis, Olga Kurylenko, John Malkovich, Vadhir Derbez, Michael Rose
Written by: Jesse V. Johnson, Erik Martinez
Directed by: Jesse V. Johnson
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 92
Date: 06/03/2022

White Elephant (2022)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pachyderm Limits

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

White Elephant is one of the better Bruce Willis "B" movies, thanks to two engaging and likable lead characters (neither played by Willis), but the overall story is too ridiculous to declare the picture a success.

Hired killer Gabriel Tancredi (Michael Rooker) has been working for crime boss Arnold (Bruce Willis) for years, and is now currently training a younger protegee, Carlos (Vadhir Derbez). Arnold orders a hit on a Mexican gangster and Carlos carries it out. But when he makes a bit of a mess, he blows up the building, an act witnessed by police officers Vanessa (Olga Kurylenko) and Walter (Michael Rose).

To cover their tracks, the killers must kill the cops. Walter is quickly dispatched, but Vanessa proves a little harder to catch. Meanwhile, as Arnold's act brings down more violence, Gabriel makes a hard decision, and, for the first time in a long while, tries to do the right thing.

The Vanessa and Gabriel ("Gabe") characters played by Kurylenko and Rooker are both introduced in White Elephant with painful pasts. Gabe mourns his late wife, and stops by her final resting place more than once. Vanessa is all nerves and carries a dark cloud over her head, due to the violence she has experienced on the job. When they team up during the third act, it's a good match, and we actually begin to care for them, to root for their success. But the circumstances that lead to their teaming up make little sense.

Everything rests on the Arnold character, whose reckless and needless commands launch all the violence. ("I think he's losing it," says Carlos.) This, coupled with Willis's real-life aphasia, which affects language and comprehension, casts a cruel note. (His checked-out performance is more sad than cool.)

The rest of the characters seem to have been neglected as well, including Carlos, who tries on different shades of cockiness with little success, and John Malkovich's lawyer Follett, who shows up in a few scenes to talk about Greek history, but doesn't seem to actually connect to the plot. It was an okay attempt, but perhaps this White Elephant should have packed its trunk and gone home.

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