Once Upon a Time in Venice

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Once Upon a Time in Venice Movie Poster Image
Mature humor in goofy-but-violent crime caper.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 95 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Not much is learned here other than "don't steal someone's dog." Some cultural insensitivity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters act recklessly and without regard for anything, including consequences. Some diversity, but that doesn't make any of the characters more admirable. Women are generally treated as sex objects.

Violence

Guns and shooting. Grenades. Characters are beaten up, choked, and hit with blunt objects. Car crashes. Characters are tied up and threatened.

Sex

The main character is naked during a long sequence; bare bottom seen. Several sex scenes/sexual situations. Sex noises heard. Topless woman. Graphic graffiti that vividly depicts several sex acts. Prostitutes shown. Mention of sex with hookers, mentions of porn. A man attends a meeting for sex addicts. Strong, frequent innuendo.

Language

Very strong language includes uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "son of a bitch," "piss," "goddamn," "cajones," "balls," and "f----t," plus "Christ" and "Jesus Christ" (as exclamations).

Consumerism

Mentions of Google and Starbucks.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A supporting character is a drug dealer. A suitcase full of cocaine is shown. Smoking. Mentions of "weed," "blow," "acid," and "tequila." Minor characters appear stoned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Once Upon a Time in Venice is a crime/action comedy starring Bruce Willis about several colorful characters in the Southern California community. It has lots of over-the-top violence involving guns and shooting, grenades, explosions, car crashes, and characters being beaten up, injured, tied up, and hit with blunt objects. Language is also strong, with multiple uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Mature sexual content includes racy sex scenes and/or sexual situations, with both a naked male bottom and a woman's breasts shown. Graffiti art on the side of a building depicts several very graphic sexual acts. Prostitutes are shown and mentioned, and a man attends a meeting for sex addicts. A supporting character is a drug dealer, and a case of cocaine is important to the plot. Smoking is shown, and other drugs are mentioned; some characters appear stoned. The movie doesn't approach art, but if the mood is right, it's silly fun.

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What's the story?

In ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE, private detective Steve Ford (Bruce Willis) is a recognizable figure in his Venice, Calif., neighborhood. When he's caught sleeping with a missing woman he's located, he escapes, naked, on a skateboard. This leads to a job recovering a stolen car from a drug dealer named Spyder (Jason Momoa). But before things can settle down, Steve's dog, Buddy, is stolen, and it looks as if the dangerous Spyder is involved. And that's somehow connected to another case: Real estate man Lou the Jew (Adam Goldberg) is being pestered with graphic graffiti on his building and wants to catch the culprit. To unwind this tangled series of events, which also involves a case of drugs and money borrowed from a loan shark, Steve's best friend, surf shop manager Dave (John Goodman), decides to help. Through it all, Steve's apprentice, John (Thomas Middleditch), is available to narrate.

Is it any good?

Another in a long line of Tarantino-inspired, multi-character comic crime capers, this movie stays on its toes during a whirlwind of sly humor, cool-headed characters, and colorful situations. The absurd plot of Once Upon a Time in Venice keeps charging ahead with a goofy gait, not even allowing time for the hero to sleep. Willis is fresh and at his cool, cocky best, and director Mark Cullen -- who previously wrote the screenplay for the awful Willis vehicle Cop Out -- gives the entire supporting cast a chance to shine. Only Middleditch's character, who narrates, is a bit too slapsticky.

Especially funny is -- surprisingly -- Game of Thrones' Momoa, who gives his drug dealer character (who once supposedly killed a Starbucks barista for misspelling his name) a quiet dignity. Other jokes are broad and purposely offensive but carried off with spirit. Once Upon a Time in Venice is far from a work of art, and in Willis' filmography it's closer to Alpha Dog or Lucky Number Slevin than Red or Pulp Fiction, but it's a bright, sunny, silly movie, and perhaps worth a viewing on TV.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Once Upon a Time in Venice's violence. Is it realistic or cartoonish? How does the movie's tone affect its impact?

  • How is sex depicted? Are the sex acts shown as emotional connections? Anything else? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • Are drugs and/or smoking glamorized? Are there consequences for their use? Why does that matter?

  • When is crude/over-the-top humor funny, and when does it cross the line? Who decides where "the line" is?

Movie details

For kids who love action and comedy

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