It’s often an arrogant and presumptuous critical tic to reflexively refer to turkeys starring major stars as “paycheck projects,” as though venality were the only possible reason a good actor might end up in a bad film. Yet it’s hard to think of a better explanation for the presence of John Cusack and Bruce Willis in Brian A. Miller’s “The Prince.” With the latter turning in one of his least committed onscreen performances, and the former appearing to be suffering from the worst migraine of his life every second he’s on camera, it’s up to star Jason Patric to somehow salvage this basic-cable-quality actioner, yet his options are limited. A brief theatrical run seems a mere formality for the Lionsgate release, with on-demand offering more promising returns.
Set very prominently in New Orleans, though shot in Mobile, Ala., “The Prince” seems to imagine itself a sort of Cajun-seasoned take on “Taken,” tossing in a dash of “Unforgiven” and a soupcon of David Mamet’s “Spartan” for extra flavor. The results, however, are far more “Grand Theft Auto: Ninth Ward,” with rote backstories, videogame-like shootouts and repetitive, uninteresting interrogations hustling the pic through its by-the-numbers paces.
Protagonist Paul (played by a competent if uncharismatic Patric), is a humble, ripped, widowed Mississippi auto mechanic with a shady past in the New Orleans criminal underworld. When his college-age daughter (Gia Mantegna) goes missing, he’s forced to sharpen up his dormant ass-kickery chops and revisit his old stomping grounds, shaking down a series of token hoods and reawakening some sleeping grudges from his bad old days in the Big Easy, most of which revolve around resident crime lord Omar (Willis, all but checking his watch). Violence quickly and inevitably ensues.
Along the way, he’s joined by his daughter’s snotty, coked-up friend Angela (Jessica Lowndes), who provides some moderately valuable intel at the start, and then inexplicably sticks around for the duration of the film to complain, scream and occasionally provide strange doses of sexual tension. Midway through, the pic introduces another ally in Paul’s old running buddy Sam (Cusack), who sighs and grimaces through his scenes as a luxury hotel-bound hustler.
No one seems to want to reinvent the wheel here, and an idle Netflix user could certainly do far worse when browsing for mindless actioners. But the overall air of shrugging obligation from those both in front of and behind the camera proves contagious. Rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Jung Ji-hoon (better known as Korean pop superstar Rain) have minor, not entirely comfortable roles which seem to serve no purpose other than to broaden the pic’s potential appeal to younger auds and Asian demos, respectively. The action sequences are competently directed, but exhibit virtually no flair or invention, as Patric simply stands there shooting at waves of anonymous henchmen until they all fall down.
If nothing else, “The Prince” does seem to afford its array of weaponry greater than average care, and unlike most mid-grade shoot-’em-ups, the film actually shows its central avenger frequently stopping to reload, and even making multiple trips to an ammo shop between gun battles. If only the rest of the film paid as much attention to detail.