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In Theaters/On VOD: TRAUMA CENTER (2019)

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TRAUMA CENTER
(US - 2019)

Directed by Matt Eskandari. Written by Paul Da Silva. Cast: Nicky Whelan, Bruce Willis, Tito Ortiz, Texas Battle, Catherine Davis, Lala Kent, Sergio Rizzuto, Tyler Jon Olson, Steve Guttenberg, Roman Mitichyan, Jonathan Galanis, Katira Maria, Jaime Irizarry, Leslee Emmett. (R, 87 mins)

A little over two months after the awful 10 MINUTES GONE, here's TRAUMA CENTER, the latest installment in Lionsgate's landmark "Bruce Willis Phones In His Performance From His Hotel Room" series. To be fair, and likely much to his chagrin, Willis is noticeably more present in this one, and he's actually in scenes that take place outdoors and, except for one hilarious bit near the end, interacting with other cast members. He's doing that weird "slow talk" routine that he used in half of REPRISAL (until he apparently got bored with it), and the tone of his dialogue sometimes doesn't match that of the actor with whom he's sharing the scene. Sometimes he yells for no reason and his facial expressions of sympathy and concern look more like he's trying to hold in a fart. Hell, maybe he wasn't there and was composited in by a digital effects team, who knows? Since 2011's SET-UP, he's done well over a dozen of these straight-to-VOD walkthroughs--maybe his entire contribution to them is one epic, ongoing deepfake.






Set and shot in Puerto Rico, TRAUMA CENTER "stars" Willis as San Juan cop Lt. Wakes, whose partner Martin (Tyler Jon Olson) is killed after stumbling on a protection racket being run by Pierce (MMA legend Tito Ortiz) and Tull (Texas Battle), a pair of corrupt vice cops. Things get complicated for the dirty cops when the murder is witnessed by Madison (Nicky Whelan of INCONCEIVABLE), a server at a diner who's closing up and taking out the trash. She takes a bullet in the leg during the shootout and is rushed to the hospital, where Wakes correctly assumes the mystery killer or killers will come after her. That they do--not just to kill her, but to extract the bullet from her left leg which was fired from Pierce's service weapon and will be traced back to him after she undergoes surgery the next morning. Wakes manages to stash Madison on the hospital's vacant seventh floor, an infectious disease ward and bacterial research facility that's currently not in use. While Wakes goes off to investigate Martin's murder on his own (translation: Willis in own separate movie for the next hour), Pierce and Tull make their way to the seventh floor where they engage in a game of cat-and-mouse with a surprisingly resourceful Madison, who's learned to take care of herself after losing her mom and raising her depressed, asthmatic teenage sister Emily (Catherine Davis), who was admitted to the hospital earlier in the day after an asthma attack. Gee, is there any chance Pierce and Tull will threaten Emily's life to get to Madison? And is there any doubt that she'll have an asthma attack at the least opportune time?


If TRAUMA CENTER had any imagination at all, it would've done something with the infectious disease angle. Instead, it's just a generally uninspired DIE HARD IN A HOSPITAL scenario, with Bruce Willis as Argyle. Director Matt Eskandari (12 FEET DEEP) does pull off one unexpectedly effective set piece where Madison sets off a fire alarm and is pursued through the seventh floor corridors with only flashing emergency lights intermittently breaking up the darkness, while a pan to a dome mirror shows that Pierce and Tull are almost right behind her facing the opposite direction and neither party realizes the other is right there. The script by Paul Da Silva is rudimentary at best, with barely-there exposition about Madison's deteriorating relationship with her sister, or Battle's Tull grunting "It's time to take it up a notch" when Madison outwits them for the tenth time. There's a bizarre attempt at making some statement about why people move to San Juan that sounds like bad improv from Willis as Madison asks Wakes why he lives in Puerto Rico, to which he wistfully mutters "the same reason everyone comes to the island...runnin' from ghosts." That constitutes character development here, though it sounds less like added layers to the enigma that is Lt. Wakes, and more like Willis using a heavy-handed metaphor to explain his continued coasting in movies like TRAUMA CENTER.


All things considered, TRAUMA CENTER, while not very good, is inoffensively generic and slightly better than what's come to be expected from these Willis paycheck gigs in his day player years. He's in it quite a bit, even when he's off on his own and not interacting with anyone, which probably means he worked as many as 3-4 days instead of his customary 1-2. He somehow seems more invested in this than he was in MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN. Only during a climactic showdown between Wakes and Tull does Willis engage in some of his signature contempt for his craft and his colleagues, forcing Eskandari to assemble a fight scene where it's painfully obvious that he and Battle weren't there at the same time. Willis' extended participation here otherwise is noted, but the real story with TRAUMA CENTER is the presence of Steve Guttenberg--yes, that Steve Guttenberg--in a thankless, two-scene supporting role as the hospital's on-duty ER doc. Now 61 and looking a little schlubbier than in his heyday, Guttenberg's commercial viability was a thing of the past long before he joined the SHARKNADO extended universe with a pair of LAVALANTULA movies for Syfy. But the guy was in some of the biggest hits of the 1980s and held his own in scenes with Laurence Olivier in 1978's THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. TRAUMA CENTER offers him a nothing role that anyone could've played, and required even less time on the set than Willis (Bruce: "Whoa, Stevie, you sure you want that ER doc role, why don't we switch?"), but what's with giving him ninth billing, sandwiching him between Tyler Jon Olson and Roman Mitichyan in the credits? A forgettable VOD action thriller and Steve Guttenberg (POLICE ACADEMY, COCOON, SHORT CIRCUIT, THREE MEN AND A BABY) doesn't even warrant a special "with" or an "and" credit? What the fuck, TRAUMA CENTER?


The hardest-working man in TRAUMA CENTER,
seen here on the set with Bruce Willis. 


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