Bruce Willis comes out blasting in this trigger-happy take on Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai saga, Yojimbo. Willis doesn’t wear a kimono like Toshiro Mifune did as the great warrior in that action benchmark. Willis doesn’t even wear a serape like Clint Eastwood did when he and director Sergio Leone did their own fun gloss on Yojimbo in the form of a 1964 western, A Fistful of Dollars.
What Bruce Willis does is play a Chicago gangster from the Prohibition era. He moseys into dusty Jericho, Texas, where two gangs — one Italian, the other Irish — are at war over bootlegging rights. Ballsy Brucie works for both of them, causing much confusion. So does his name. He tries John Smith, but nobody buys it. It would be weird if he called himself Sanjuro, like Mifune, so he goes the Eastwood route as the man with no name.
If this sounds funny, the movie is working. Writer and director Walter Hill, an action auteur with an uneven record — The Long Riders, yes, Geronimo, nada — tries to approximate the comic tone of his predecessors with noirish narration and dialogue. Willis, to his credit, gets into it. He talks tough, even when you know he’s Jell-O inside. It also helps that Christopher Walken and Bruce Dern are around to tease their tough images. But parody and back story bore Hill. His heart is in the shootouts, when Willis takes a gun in each hand and blows away the extras, allowing Lloyd Ahern’s camera to watch them die in slo-mo and sound mixer Lee Orloff to make bullets erupt like rockets. Nice going, guys, but it’s been done.