Precious Cargo marks the third low-budget action flick to be released over the past year and change carrying the Bruce Willis name on its marquee, the other two being the Westworld knockoff Vice and the espionage non-starter Extraction. A pattern has started to form, in which the Die Hard actor's prestige draws attention to these under-the-radar projects and ultimately, by virtue of being cast in such a small or static part, has little or no impact on the quality of the film itself. Luckily, this outing from director Max Adams -- who also wrote Extraction -- doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as the previous two, relishing the tongue-in-cheek capers of a band of modern-day rogues who get roped into a complex heist at the whims of a pregnant thief. Keep in mind that Precious Cargo isn't much better, sporting loose character bonds and looser logic amid this Ocean's-meets-Expendables scenario with Bruce Willis lurking in the shadows, but at least a casual sense of humor gives it a pulse that doesn't waste one's time.
At the center of it all stands Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who's anything but a preppy as Jack, a professional thief who has stepped away from the allure of big heists in pursuit of different, albeit still unsavory jobs. He's settled down a bit, even starting to date a person outside the industry, and has begun the process of moving on from his relationship with pro-thief Karen (Claire Forlani). That is, until she shows up on his doorstep one day begging him for help with another job, while carrying another surprise: a nice baby bump under her dress. Karen spins the story of how a violent crime boss, Eddie (Bruce Willis), is after her and the knowledge she possesses of a substantial job, one that'd net them tens of millions of dollars in jewels. Swayed by his empathy and his lingering feelings, Jack agrees to assist his ex-flame with the help of his partner, Logan (Jenna B. Kelly), and a ragtag group of rogues who'll fill the positions required for an elaborate heist, all while evading the volatile and murderous wrath of Eddie throughout Mississippi.
Typically, someone can figure out what brand of common sense will be at play in one of these direct-to-video action flicks within the first five to ten minutes, since so many of 'em start out with a vigorous sequence designed to hook the audience's attention out of the starting gate. With Precious Cargo, that opening includes blank bullets used to trick arms dealers and conducting deals at a beach within easy eyeshot of passersby -- and, more importantly, in the crosshairs of the scar-faced sniper Jenna. The silliness does calm down from that, sure, but the flick's still working with floods of missed bullets and the gleeful main characters nostalgically laughing off the dangerous situations they're caught in, and their lack of taking things seriously translates into the audience not really taking things seriously. There's no shortage of action going on, either, from speedy boast chases and armored truck heists to gunfights in a labyrinthine hotel, all of which are filled with cheesy comedic banter that reassures whoever's watching that it's alright to laugh along, even if they should probably be digging into the suspense.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar doesn't do a bad job of embodying the stubbly, sharp persona of a "reforming" ex-thief, giving Jack the right kind of durable gristle that makes his survival in hairy situations at least partly credible. He's surrounded by unconvincing dialogue and token characters delivering it, though, all of whom are boiled down to one or two shallow, obnoxious traits, whether it's a getaway driver (Nick Loeb) who can't stop getting drunk or a married ex-military guy (John Brotherton) who throws himself into the line of fire just to get away from his abrasive wife. And then there's Eddie, Bruce Willis' pseudo-cameo in Precious Cargo, which, admittedly, is a tad more interesting than some of his other recent direct-to-video performances, given that he's allowed to be impulsive and callously snarling. Unfortunately, that's all there is to the film's overbearing criminal villain, relying on the easy assumed danger of his desire for wealth and retribution to keep the action moving forward. In fact, the most intriguing character of the lot might be the veterinary doctor Jack was dating, Jenna (Lydia Hull), who seems surprisingly tolerant of Jack's criminal history.
No, Precious Cargo doesn't deliver the goods as a decent all-around movie, but there's something different about its intentions and trajectory that makes it more endurable than its bargain-bin brethren. A silly watchable rhythm starts to form somewhere between the zany logic, the vulgar dialogue, and the absurd trust placed in untrustworthy participants in a high-octane heist, where the outlandishness of what's going down at least offers its audience something amusing that isn't trying too hard to hide under the guise of legitimacy. Even down to its double-entendre of a title, director Max Adams never forgets that he's playing around with the audience here, whether he's sincerely trying to engage them with the plot's machinations or not. That kind of enjoyment has a shelf-life, of course, one that expires before Bruce Willis ultimately brings down his wrath upon the film's antiheroes, but at least there's something of mild value in Precious Cargo that keeps the job from being a complete loss.
Video and Audio:
Precious Cargo might be shiny and sharp, but it's not a flawless jewel of a Blu-ray from Lionsgate. The 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC digital transfer does offer a lot of nimble flesh tones throughout the film, while also capturing the sun-baked aesthetic of the boat chases with the appropriate shades, notably a lot of deep green and tan water elements. Karen's blue dress, the brick red of an armored truck, and grass greens stand out from the heavy, hot temperature of outdoor cinematography, while darker interior and nighttime shots embrace deep orange and felt green shades without much distortion. Details in movement, especially within the flutter of water and the brisk acceleration of boats, yields jerky and harsh high-definition clarity, though, while black levels lean more greenish and orange-tinted depending on certain scenes, carrying a good bit of noise. There's also some inherent detail smoothness throughout, as well. The transfer coasts along and gets the job done, and that's about it.
The audio is a particularly forgettable 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, one that bangs and thuds the way it needs to on Blu-ray without much to really ensnare the audience's attention. The boat chase scenes and the armored car heist exhibit the bulk of the activity, tapping into moderate lower-end rumble and mid-range clarity that separates well enough across the front channels. Gunshots deliver adequate high-end pop to sustain the briskness of firefights, while the crashing of waves and the revving of engines grasp a little atmospheric clarity. Activity doesn't travel to the rear channels in its full breadth, though little whispers of activity can be heard here and there, perhaps a clunk and a hum for a small added punch. The music stays fairly well-balanced against the effects, though, persisting with sonic momentum throughout, amounting to an energetic but serviceable track.
The central extra available here is the Making of Precious Cargo (14:36, 16x9 HD), a fifteen-minute collection of interviews and generous clips from the film to pad out the runtime. The actors (sans Willis, of couse) discuss their characters and the opportunities that these renegades afforded their dramatic talents, while director Max Adams hops into the discussion with bits about the conception process and overall direction. The featurette is probably about twice as long as it should be, but works fine for after-film viewing. The collection of six raw Interviews (43:54, 16x9 HD) used for the extra have also been made available, as well as a standard Trailer (2:12, 16x9 HD) for the film.
Precious Cargo ends up being about what one would expect from its direct-to-video premise, saved from being entirely difficult to watch by its intermittent sense of humor. Gaps in common sense, one-dimensional and unappealing supporting characters (including Bruce Willis' cameo-esque villain), and the action impacted by those other two elements form into a clunky heist thriller, weighing down Mark-Paul Gosselaar's admirable turn as a rogue antihero helping out his pregnant ex-lover with a tricky job. Had it taken itself completely seriously, Precious Cargo would've been insufferable, but the gleeful attitude generated by director Max Adams at least gives it a scrap of loopy charm. Lionsgate's Blu-ray looks and sounds decent enough, and it includes a fifteen-minute featurette and the plain interviews used to make it. Compared to other, similar DTV action fare like this, this one's worth a Rental before some of the others.