Earlier this year, I reviewed Edward John Drake’s Gasoline Alley, the filmmaker’s crime-caper collaboration with Bruce Willis. I found the film tedious and convoluted but Willis (and his co-stars) were surprisingly engaged with a script they could’ve easily performed just for the check. Detective Knight: Rogue is the start of a trilogy of films starring Willis as the titular police officer, James Knight, a loose cannon whose checkered past is concealed by the powers of his badge. When his partner, Fitz (Lochlyn Munro), is wounded in the line of duty, Knight makes it his mission to bring down the bank-robbing crew that hurt the only man he trusts.
It wouldn’t be a modern crime film without a hint of Heat, and as such, Drake’s screenplay (co-written with Corey Large) delves heavily into the lives and motivations of the criminals much more so than that of the crooked cop pursuing them. In this case, each of the bank-robbing crew has shared trauma as former professional athletes. Forget the standard “Marines home in a country that distrusts them.” This time, we’re dealing with men injured for America’s entertainment and then cast aside.
Their shared history helps give Knight a bead on them, but we spend a majority of the running time getting to know them before sparks fly. Casey (Beau Mirchoff) is the leader and most “sympathetic”; Mike (Trevor Gretzky) is Casey’s childhood friend; Mercer (Large) is the classic one-screw-loose who may well screw up everything. They’re joined by Sykes (Keeya King), the smartest of the group. Despite having accidentally shot a cop while on a job in Los Angeles, the quartet is strong-armed into another heist in New York by local mob boss Winna (Michael Eklund), who happens to have history with Knight.
For the most part, Rogue is a plodding, convoluted experience with a broad cast of characters that doesn’t stand out beyond their archetypes and a central lead who isn’t at the level he once was. Willis’s public retirement from acting came soon after he completed filming Knight trilogy, following over a decade of these low-budget VOD thrillers. Most of them are not good, although some, like Gasoline Alley, saw the star lay it all on the table. Unfortunately, this is not Gasoline Alley, and Willis just doesn’t carry the corrupt-cop side of things with the level of self-assured sleaze the role requires.
Drake is a capable director, crafting a crime thriller that pretty much looks like every other crime thriller in the post-Heat landscape. There’s even a shootout on city streets.
Willis also stars in the forthcoming sequels, Redemption and Independence, also slated for a monthly VOD release through January. Rogue ends in a cliffhanger that is sure to be followed up on, but that’s a path I likely will not follow.