Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 24, 2022 6:47 pm 
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LUKE WILSON, DEVON SAWA, AND BRUCE WILLIS IN GASOLINE ALLEY

TRAILER

A suspect sets out to find the bad guys

This is one of a series of movies featuring Bruce Willis brought out with Saban Films (they include "Paradise City,Cosmic Sin, and Breach - and Willis shot American Seige with director Edward Drake last year), which fit the category Vulture has described as "geezer teaser potboilers." This time he's a tired, unscrupulous cop, Det. Freeman, who operates, as the blurb tells us in the "underbelly" of L.A. Most of the shooting was done in Georgia. One scene in a police station has a sign saying "Tifton , GA" on the wall. I guess they just left it up as a homage. Or is it a blooper? The occasional skyline shot reassures us we're still in the great metropolis. A lot of the action takes place indoors or at night. This is a colorful police procedural also headlining Luke Wilson as Det. Freeman's partner, Det. Vargas - though I'd say this is a rather loose partnership, to put it mildly.

Willis largely phones in his performance, while Wilson does some standup footwork. But most of the action, and then some, comes from hard-working former teen heartthrob Devon Sawa, who plays Jimmy Jayne, a reformed ex-con. Jayne did five years for aggravated assault. There's a good CV for an action figure. Now he runs a small tattoo parlor and works on hotrods, possessing a gleaming muscle car himself in which he gets to go one-on-one with a bad buy and an SUV at one point. Nothing much comes of it. But Sawa is in most of the scenes of this film and he's a watchable guy, and Jimmy Jayne as a decent, near-indestructible man who works out a fair bargain with Det. Vargas.

This is a movie for you if you like to settle in with an unambitious B Picture sometimes but you want it to be done right, without a lot of cheating. Gasoline Alley is a slight twist (not exactly a new one) on a police procedural where the spotlight shifts to the innocent suspect who sets out to defend himself by finding the criminal. To start things out, there's a lurid waxworks kind of three-lady homicide discovered at the outset - three beautiful young woman sitting up dead - at a joint called Gasoline Alley. Vargas checks it out, and evidence of a cigarette lighter makes Jimmy Jaynes a "person of interest," upon which he undertakes to find out the real killer or killers. In the process he undercovers some of that dark "underbelly," which includes a human trafficking operation that uses the cover, or portal, of a fly-by-night Hollywood movie production company to attract and move young ingenues for nefarious purposes. Oh yes, and an underground tunnel from San Diego to Tijuana is unearthed. And for this to get by, clearly somebody in the police force is dishonest.

This is not ultimately a thrilling or unusual action picture, but one of the other stars is the cinematographer, Brandon Cox, who was the dp for RZA's Cut Throat City, an action heist movie with - at first, anyway - a social conscience that stars Demetrius Ship Jr., Keean Johnson, Shameik Moore, and Denzel Wiittiker. It owes some of its gorgeousness to Cox's lensing, and he and the lighting and set dressing people deserve credit for making things glow in Gasoline Alley. he was also the dp on Heist, Marauders, and Line of Duty.

Another thing to admire is the honesty of its physical action. When Sawa has the big fight with the bad guy at the end, it's a knockdown, drag out free for all and you can see every move, no faking. In fact Sawa has a welcome no-nonsense quality about him that makes you buy him as the superhero of the piece. He's grizzled and unshaven from his first meetup at the bar with a young painted lady from "far away from here" called Star (Irina Antinenko, a former Miss Russia and former Miss Universe finalist), who he wants to save from her unscrupulous bosses by hiring as his secretary. Why does he need a secretary? There may be more to Jimmy Jayne than meets the eye.

Gasoline Alley, 97 mins., is In theaters, digital, and on demand Feb. 25, 2022.

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