Hayden Christensen has become, rather unfairly, an easy target because of his stiff performances in the disappointing Star Wars prequels. An actor still has to work despite whatever unfair criticism is lobbed at him. Christensen now stars in the thriller from director Steven C. Miller, First Kill. If you were hoping that this would be the leading role to rehabilitate the reputation of Hayden Christensen, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The only thing impressive about First Kill is just how overwhelmingly inept it is in every facet of its construction. This is a plodding, boring, and incredibly stupid piece of storytelling with a warped moral compass.
Will (Christensen) is a businessman working in New York City, arranging teleconferences with partners in far flung places. However, his young son Danny (Ty Shelton) is constantly bullied at school. Being a concerned parent, Will decides the best way to toughen up his young son is to take him out to the woods and kill an animal with his grandfather’s bolt action rifle. Will and his wife Laura (Megan Leonard) take their son to Will’s old hometown, where he’s quickly confronted by the local police chief Marvin Howell (Bruce Willis). Marvin warns Will to keep an eye out as there has just been a daring robbery in the quiet little town. Though the movie tries to establish that there’s a friendly relationship between Willis’ and Christensen’s characters, it’s so bungled in execution that it’s pretty damn obvious that Marvin isn’t exactly a trustworthy officer of the law.
Once at their secluded country home, Will instructs with painstaking detail just how Danny should handle his firearm. We’re witness to the father loading the gun, instructing his son how handle the gun, and then the young man firing a few shots for the first time. This is just one of many moments of egregious padding that Steven C. Miller inserts into First Kill. When hunting, Will and Danny accidentally oversee an encounter between Levi (Gethin Anthony) and Charlie (Shea Buckner), the two arguing over a key. Charlie shoots Levi at point blank range, and soon sets his sights on Danny which prompts Will to shoot and kill the man. He then sees the badge on the man he’s just shot, and instead decides to aid the wounded Levi and flee the scene of the crime – this is just one of many incredibly stupid decisions that this characters commits. Levi is medically tended to by Laura, and then he awakes only to kidnap Danny so that he can get the key that was left behind at the initial crime scene. Will tracks down the MacGuffin while Police Chief Marvin is never far behind.
Time hasn’t made Hayden Christensen any less wooden of an actor, though once again he’s underserved by the written material, in this case by screenwriter Nick Gordon. The character routinely makes awful decisions, and this is character trait that is established right from the start. To be fair, Hayden Christensen has absolutely no backup on the screen. Most of the cast is out of place or poorly underwritten. Most noticeably, though, is the sleepwalking on display by Bruce Willis, who seems like he couldn’t be bothered with even putting forth the slightest bit of effort.
There are painstaking lengths taken by Steven C. Miller to establish some kind of moral to this inept story. The character of Levi, who I must remind you kidnaps a child after committing a robbery, only takes upon his life of crime in order to help his wife’s mother, who is afflicted with what is described as a “80-pound tumor.” While attempting to make Levi somewhat sympathetic, it does make it sound like he’s engaged in a life of crime to save the life of someone who can’t be saved. Of course, Levi is able to bond with kidnapping victim by allowing the child to play video games, leading to the quickest case of Stockholm syndrome in recorded history. It’s not just the criminals who have this bizarre form of morality injected in to their characters. In a lot of ways, Christensen’s character reminds me of Homer Simpson in the classic episode “Homer’s Phobia,” where a misguided hunting trip will somehow make Bart more masculine and not a homosexual. Once he’s killed a man in self-defense in front of his child, Christensen’s Will decides to not report it to the authorities. A sterling case of leading by example. He’s truly a Father of the Year candidate.
The general construction of First Kill is astounding in its ineptitude. One of the film’s crucial scenes take place during a rain storm. You can tell it’s an obviously a faked rain, because Miller frames these shots where you can see the sunshine and a perfect day in the background of the frame. This isn’t a case of a minor little sliver of light sneaking into a darkened frame, it’s an overwhelming distraction. This carelessness sneaks into the film’s action sequences, such as one chase where there are conveniently two ATVs for the characters to just take at will. It’s also prevalent in the dialogue, as in the moment where Willis’ Marvin calls the hospital to ask the nurse on duty about the “tumor list,” which I’m sure is a routinely used medical term. All these factors and the egregious padding make First Kill a movie that’s a chore to sit through. This isn’t so bad it’s good. It’s just bad. Really, really bad.
A slow-moving thriller featuring a sleepwalking Bruce Willis, First Kill is woefully inept in everything it does except for padding its running time with drawn out scenes of pure tedium.