This reeks of the quirky R crime comedies of the 90s—where a lot of effort was dumped into writing characters who were equally parts damaged and savvy but also quirkily charming to an outside observer. And mostly, ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE works. Willis seems to bring his career out of a deep winter’s nap and embraces his inner-naked-skateboarding private investigator. John Goodman shows up and plays along merrily with the edgy, violent foolishness. He brings a level of comedy straight man to offset some of the odd goings-on, but Goodman also lends an air of credibility to the proceedings.
It’s not great stuff. And Jason Momoa must be one of the stiffest, most uninteresting musclehead-to-leading-man actors in a long history of such A- and B-list bruisers. But the film has an energy that mostly works courtesy of a joyously self-deprecating Bruce Willis and his character’s ridiculously simple and sweet loyalty to his dog.