“There are no cowboy cops. And they’ve killed all our heroes.”
Detective Knight: Redemption is a considerable improvement over Detective Knight: Rogue but it still suffers from the same fundamental weakness — the presence of Bruce Willis as the titular detective. These films, as well as the third installment, Independence, were filmed on the verge of Willis’s medically influenced retirement, and in many sequences he’s clearly not as capable an actor as he used to be; he feels like more of a prop than a performer. Aphasia is a condition that causes memory loss and issues with speech and language. It’s been clear to fans of Willis that something has been different in his performances the last few years, but here, at the end of his career, many of the old tricks just don’t quite work. Creative use of camera angles, ADR and editing can’t hide the fact Willis sometimes struggles with the material. Most of his scenes are hard to watch. His best moments are when he’s blasting bad guys, but those are few and far between.
Willis’ presence in the marketing is the only reason anyone might notice the Detective Knight trilogy on-demand at all, which creates a conundrum: Are Willis’s fans really interested in seeing him this way or are they showing up to watch their favorite actor deliver a pulpy performance as a complicated cop? I believe it’s the former, and most will be massively disappointed — and likely saddened — to see the icon in such a state. That’s not to say the film is taking advantage of him by any means; Willis was handsomely paid for his work and time, and that’s the reason he completed as many of these straight-to-VOD films as he could. Still, it’s just a difficult watch and one that will make fans hope retirement brings Willis some much-deserved rest.
It’s a shame that Willis’ presence makes Redemption such a hard watch because writer-director Edward Drake otherwise delivers his best low-budget crime thriller thus far. Gasoline Alley and Detective Knight: Rogue both fell into the trap of stories too convoluted to support their gut-level thrills, but Redemption has a level of grotesque goofiness that should please genre fans. This time around, a villain named Father Conlan (Paul Johansson) has declared himself the enemy of the system and he launches his attacks at the height of our capitalist fervor — the Christmas season. Adorned in ghoulish Santa garb, Conlan and his devoted cult rob banks, murder bystanders and workers, and send their twisted messages to the masses.
Naturally, there’s a conspiracy involving a mayor (John Cassini) and the secret banks of the ultra-rich. It all gets a little silly, but the basic premise and execution of the robbery scenes are fun and pretty energetic. Although Willis headlines, the main characters are actually Shea (Miranda Edwards), a cop who reluctantly recruits Knight (Willis) to help locate Conlan, and Knight’s former partner, Fitzgerald (Lochlyn Munro), who was injured in the first film. The third lead is thief Casey Rhodes (Beau Mirchoff), a returning character from the first film, who befriends Knight while the two are in prison and who ends up part of the gang after a prison breakout. Knight is barely present for most of the running time despite being the ostensible main character and plot driver. Despite this absence, Knight’s scenes still cast a real pall over the first two acts of the film, which is otherwise capably carried by the rest of the ensemble (particularly Johansson, who delivers a decent off-brand Michael Parks energy to his insanity). The film ends strong with a creative and satisfying Christmas Eve gun battle.
If you can get past the Willis of this film and simply engage with it as an absurd low-budget crime drama, there are still pleasures to be had in Redemption. Just know what you’re getting into before pressing “play.”