1990s' Action Stars: Aren't They Precious?

Precious Cargo
(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Max Adams, Writ. Max Adams and Paul Seetachitt
Starring: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Bruce Willis, Claire Forlani, Daniel Bernhardt, Nick Loeb, Lydia Hull, John Brotherton, Tyler J. Olson, Sammi Barber, Jenna Kelly
Courtesy of VVS Films

Bruce Willis is in an odd place in his career. He isn’t quite in Liam Neeson territory, since the clunky action movies he makes aren’t nearly as undignified steps down in his trajectory as Neeson’s are. Willis still plays the action star relatively well even though he’s pushing sixty and making Die Hard movies alongside RED 2. He’s getting up there, but nobody’s pushing him out of the ring just yet. 1990s action stars: aren't they precious?

Willis’s latest mindless payday Precious Cargo casts him against type as the villain. His mean gangster Eddie is one of the better reasons to see the film. He’s still a better fit behind a gun than are most of the young protégés of the action scene today.

Take, for example, Precious Cargo’s relatively bland lead Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved by the Bell). He’s a serviceable one-size-fits-all type of rugged action star who has the physique to do the grunt work and to point and shoot, but he brings little to the table personality-wise. His Jack is one of those beefy action heroes that gets the job done without the yippee ki-yay charm that makes someone a star. He’s one of those guys that audiences have seen in many things, but they can’t really place him since he doesn’t leave much of an impression, while Willis’s star power carries much of the film, even in a supporting role that’s mostly a novelty.

Precious Cargo is therefore harmlessly enjoyable as a kind of dated exercise in genre and entertainment. Like its top star, the film feels like a throwback to 1990s action-comedy capers with its fast-paced exploits and utterly preposterous set pieces. Every minute of it is stupid, but not in the bad way. Precious Cargo is trash and knows it, and that’s just fine.

The movie adapts director/co-writer Max Adams’ short film of the same name about a thief named Jack who stumbles into a turf war between thieves when his ex-girlfriend Karen (Claire Forlani, in a wonderfully terrible performance that complements the film’s 1990s vibe) shows up with a baby bump and a mobster on her tail. Karen, see, botched a heist for Bruce Willis’s Eddie, so she wants Jack’s help recovering the stolen loot. The pair reunites to become partners in crime as Precious Cargo pits the expecting parents in ludicrous shoot-outs including one high-speed bullet spree in a boat as the former flames bicker about relationship woes and impending babies. Precious Cargo is not a thinking person’s film, but even a film blogger currently watching 3-4 documentaries a day needs some empty calories.

Jack, Karen, foetus, and co engage in some outrageous stunts and convoluted set pieces as their caper puts them back in Eddie’s pocket. As Precious Cargo delivers sequences that are loonier than each one that precedes it, it nevertheless becomes more entertaining the stupider it gets. It’s a fun actioner that goes best with a pitcher and deep fried pickles in VIP cinemas or, more likely, greasy home fries and a Netflix hangover when one needs some silly action. As pure escapism goes, it’s a lot more fun than the paycheck movies Liam Neeson cranks out.

Precious Cargo opens theatrically in Toronto at the Carlton and in Montreal at Dollar Cinema, and on VOD on April 29 from VVS Films.