Apex Synopsis: Serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, former cop Thomas Malone (Bruce Willis) gets a chance to win his freedom if he can survive a twisted game. Six killers pay for the thrill of hunting Malone for sport on a remote island, but once he arrives, all hell breaks loose. Laying traps and playing mind games, he soon turns the tables on the goons who want him dead.
In case readers haven’t been monitoring the straight-to-VOD scene, Bruce Willis has made no mystery about his sell-out intentions. The Die Hard star has endured a Nicolas Cage-esque run of straight-to-streaming stinkers, staring in six titles just this year alone. The only person more disinterested than audiences watching these half-baked efforts is Bruce Willis himself, with the former A-lister often sleepwalking his way toward another easy paycheck.
Writer/director Edward Drake completes his own disposable sci-fi Bruce Willis trilogy with Apex (Drake wrote 2020’s Breach and wrote/directed 2021’s Cosmic Sin). Similar to his other bargain-bin budget films, Drake’s latest bats around promising ideas before suffocating under the weight of its thankless formula.
Even as the writer/director goes zero for three with his Bruce Willis sci-fi trilogy, I can’t completely dismiss Drake’s effort with these features. The survival-of-the-fittest, human-becomes-prey concept is as old as time itself, but Drake finds a few amusing avenues to modernize its conceits. His cast of self-obsessed, elitist hunters, including a sociopath played with delicious wickedness by Neal McDonough, serves as a fitting representation for the callous coldness exhibited by one-percenters idly abusing their power. Drake possesses a clear understanding of how genre films of this ilk operate, throwing in a plethora of swaggering one-liners while he keeps the pace moving at a fast and furious clip.
Similar to Drake’s other features, Apex’s failures can be attributed largely to constraining circumstances. Bruce Willis is supposed to serve as the prey for the film’s deadly hunting game, yet whether due to budgetary restraints or Willis’ lack of interest, the star barely shares the screen with his co-stars. In his sparse 15 minutes, Willis never wakes up from his coma of boredom, mugging his way through every frame as strives to maintain the bare minimum of effort.
The star’s lack of involvement ends up becoming a hilarious running joke, as the hunters spend most of the narrative walking in circles and debating with one another rather than engaging with the film’s narrative intent. Even as someone who is sympathetic to spirited low-budget productions, Apex feels laughably defined by its deficient assets. Drake’s inclusion of gunfights and futuristic technology reeks of antiquated CGI and a lack of engaging style, missing the type of ingenuity to make the limited budget a genuine asset. In the future, I hope Drake finds a way to escape the draining dredges of straight-to-VOD formula. Each of his Willis-led features demonstrates blimps of B-movie camp before ultimately succumbing to the disposability of their low-budget production cycle.
Apex doesn’t possess a single moment of excitement or originality throughout its duration. There are enough unintentionally humorous gaffs to prevent the feature from becoming an outright disaster, but most viewers will be just as disinterested watching the film as Willis is starring in it.
Apex is available to rent on VOD platforms.
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