As many are aware by this point, the recent string of poor, direct-to-VOD films featuring an apparently phoned-in Bruce Willis are not the result of a jaded, middle-aged star looking to make a quick buck at the expense of his craft and reputation, but the actor’s tragic diagnosis of aphasia: A degenerative brain disorder which can make comprehending and expressing written and spoken language increasingly difficult. The announcement suddenly explained the rumors swirling around Willis’ involvement in these “geezer teaser” films—the uncertainty as to his cognitive state and performance while filming; his reported need for an earpiece, difficulty reading lines, frequent on-set confusion and overuse of body doubles. Why Willis starred in 22 of these low-budget “trash” films over the past few years, and whether or not Willis was a victim of exploitation, is still a topic of contention. Regardless of how small the role, Willis’ face on a movie poster was still enough to bring in a sizable chunk of change for an indie studio.
However, the recent reveal of Willis’ health came hand-in-hand with the unsurprising news that he would be retiring from acting. It was a gutting day to learn that one of the greatest stars of our generation has been suffering quietly for years. Still, while Willis has completed all the acting that he will ever do, the performer has a whopping seven remaining direct-to-video films set to release before we bid farewell to his screen presence for good. One of these films is titled Corrective Measures, and it is something that I had no idea even existed: A Tubi streaming original. The film is an action/fantasy/sci-fi hybrid about the rising tensions in a specialized prison for “supervillains.” In the world of Corrective Measures, a widespread accident caused millions of people to develop a selection of varying superpowers. Thus, criminals with powers are segregated into a special prison called San Tiburon, where their powers can be contained. “Superpowers” can mean anything from controlling electricity to just looking like an orc or a werewolf. It’s fantastic, and I say that seriously.
Perhaps, the reason that Corrective Measures is so genuinely fun and watchable is in part because it is based on a 2005 graphic novel of the same name by Grant Chastain and Fran Moyano. The film also knows exactly what it is, and it isn’t trying to be anything but. The performances feel intentionally hammy and over-the-top, or they’re just entertainingly bad. This is aside from Bruce Willis, who is, understandably, muted and hardly present in his brief scenes—despite ironically playing the most powerful prisoner in San Tiburon. The great Michael Rooker plays prison overseer Devlin in a more toned-down performance than he usually gives in higher-budget affairs, but one in which he still seems to be having some fun (and one where he gets to sit in a chair for the majority of his scenes).
But there is a lot to like about the film beyond the varying acting talent on display. There are the fakey gunshot blasts that look like they were grabbed from a stock effect site. There’s an uncanny meet-cute scene between a married prisoner and the prison nurse. There’re the devices prisoners wear that nullify their powers called “nullies.” There’s an intermittently broadcasted news channel called “Pulse Watch” that keeps the audience at home up to date on the goings-on at San Tiburon. There’s a character named Diamond Jim, which, like, is that just a coincidence that this character shares the same name as a character from Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie played by a Johnny Depp impersonator, or…?
I don’t really know much about the lore of Willis’ other “geezer teaser” films, or the geezer teaser world in general. I know that they’re all very loosely connected to one another production-wise, many are produced or directed by a handful of guys and that their goal is to lure unsuspecting audiences with the promise of a big name like Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage or John Travolta, only to have said star appear in 15 minutes of total screentime. Corrective Measures is particularly intriguing though: It was directed by Sean Patrick O’Reilly, who owns the comic book company Arcana Studio that published the Corrective Measures graphic novel, and that also doubles as an animation studio.
The animated films that O’Reilly previously directed sure do look like something, that’s for sure. They are all based on graphic novels, some of which O’Reilly created, but all of which are within Arcana Studio’s own library. A child who is assumedly O’Reilly’s son, Kiefer O’Reilly, does voices for many of the characters in O’Reilly’s animated films, but so do real, big-name actors like Bill Paxton and Christopher Plummer. He’s also worked on episodes of Entourage and Psych, though I guess these two bits of information are unrelated from the previous; I just thought it was interesting. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I guess it seems like O’Reilly’s films are entirely in-house affairs, and he somehow managed to get involved in the geezer teaser business back in 2009, producing the Steven Seagal vehicle A Dangerous Man, despite being largely focused on children’s animation. He also wrote an action movie for Kimbo Slice. I think there is something sinister going on here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…
No matter how “so bad it’s good” some of these final, DTV Bruce Willis films can be (and Corrective Measures could certainly rank among the best of them), it is distressing to see Willis’ goodbyes manifest as a series of possibly exploitative trash, to consider that the final films with the legendary actor were a product of his condition being taken advantage of. No matter how hard I laughed during certain scenes—like one where an especially enthusiastic female prison guard beats a man’s face to a bloody pulp with extreme force and visceral squelching noises as blood explodes from the man’s body before her—I returned to the ones where a clearly out-of-it Willis acted against performers who were clearly not physically in the same scene as him. We can only hope that Willis’ days ahead are comfortable, relaxing and surrounded by his loved ones, no longer making movies titled Fortress: A Sniper’s Eye or Gasoline Alley.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.