Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Bruce Willis Flop That's Defying Odds And Killing It On Netflix

Here's the first thing that might surprise audiences about Hard Kill: The low-budget action drama is low-key killing it with a stronger-than-expected showing on Netflix. Leave it to the streaming masses to show the film critics of the world that they just don't understand fun.

If you were given the basic plot summary –– a hardened ex-special forces mercenary is hired by a tech billionaire to save his kidnapped daughter and safeguard a potentially world-shattering piece of MacGuffin software –– which one would you guess Bruce Willis was playing?

Okay, so he's not the kidnapped daughter, but neither is he the mercenary in this instance. That part goes to Jesse Metcalfe, 23 years younger than Willis and more tolerant of the hits and punishment that come with being an action star. That leaves Willis as Donovan Chalmers, corporate CEO and scarf enthusiast, capable of running a company that delves vaguely into AI and quantum computing. Does that sound complicated and perhaps a little sci-fi? It's really neither. Hard Kill is about as uncomplicated an action movie as you can find on Netflix, which is why its chart-topping dominance comes as a bit of a surprise.

Who is in Hard Kill?

In Hard Kill, written by Chris LaMont and Joe Russo (not the Joe Russo you're thinking of), Willis' Chalmers and Metcalfe's Derek Miller team up to rescue his daughter and the software from the hands of a terrorist mastermind whose nom de guerre is "The Pardoner." Willis is certainly the film's big above-the-title star. While there's no escaping the title intentionally reminiscent of Die Hard, the movie is actually it's own thing entirely. Amazingly, this is Willis' third collaboration with director Matt Eskandari over the last two years, after 2019's Trauma Center and 2020's Survive the Night. None of these cinematic outings have exactly dazzled, though Survive the Night was arguably the best received out of the trio. Hard Kill presents a lot more of the same from this thrifty and fecund partnership, so if you liked the first two, chances are good you'll find something to enjoy in the third.

Metcalfe is a veteran of primetime soaps who's carved out a second career as a low-budget action and horror hero. He played gardener-turned-lover John Rowland on ABC's Lynchian suburban gothic Desperate Housewives and grieving-parent-turned-vengeful-punisher Craig Landry in 2010's The Tortured. He starred as Christopher Ewing on the reboot of Dallas and as Chase Carter in two movie adaptations of the Dead Rising video game series. He was Trace Riley in Chesapeake Shores and Luke Graves in Escape Plan 2: Hades. You get the idea, and you can probably guess which mode of his Hard Kill falls under by the beard he wears in the above shot, if nothing else. 

Along for the ride are Lala Kent as Chalmers' kidnapped daughter, Eva, and WWE star Eva Marie (here as Natalie Eva Marie) as Miller's team member Sasha Zindel. Actors Texas Battle and Sergio Rizzuto return from Trauma Center to play ally Nick Fox and the villainous Pardoner, respectively.

Critics are having a hard time loving Hard Kill

Hard Kill is unlikely to win any critics' choice awards this year. It has a zero-percent rating from just 18 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with most of those reporting that Willis' performance is somewhere on a spectrum from exhausted to disdainful. 

"The production notes inform us that the unimaginatively titled Hard Kill was filmed in a mere ten days, making you wonder how they spent eight of them," said Frank Scheck in his review for The Hollywood Reporter.

"Look beyond the lifelessly choreographed shootouts," wrote Mike McCahill in a one-star Guardian review, "and you keep catching glimpses of ghosts: those of American industry, yes, but also those of the American action movie, once manufactured with a skill, verve and wit wholly absent from these painfully long 98 minutes ... Anyone hoping Bruce Willis might enjoy a career renaissance after his rediscovery in M. Night Shyamalan's Split and Glass: lower those expectations now."

Audiences like Hard Kill a whole lot more than critics do

Of course, there's a certain niche a movie like this is trying to hit, and close examination for the purpose of writing a review isn't quite it. While the film has undoubtedly withered under the critical gaze, it's actually above water with the fans. For what it's trying to be, Hard Kill appears to be more successful than the scathing reviews let on. It holds an audience score of 65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and many everyday movie-lovers have expressed genuine delight after watching Hard Kill. Take Twitter user @CuriousGeorgeXL as a perfect example. He said of the film, "It was exactly what I expected it to be, and exactly what I wanted. Bullets, explosions, Bruce, repeat. #HardKill is a testosterone filled man escape."

Plus, the whole reason Hard Kill is back in the news cycle is because of how well it's performing on Netflix. Judging by the movie's ability to blast through the streaming platform's Top 10 list, lots of people are willing to at least give Hard Kill a shot. You could be the next convert.