Bruce Willis is downright somnolent in director Steven C. Miller’s listless crime thriller First Kill, mumbling and dully grimacing through his performance as a small-town sheriff. If it’s hard to condemn Willis for his indifference in playing a character whose most emotionally resonant line is a meme-worthy Hemingway quotation (“There is no hunting like the hunting of man”), it’s still a bit dispiriting to watch him get out-classed by the entire cast, even Hayden Christensen doing a colorless father-in-peril routine. British actor Gethin Anthony, leaning heavily into an American country-boy accent, is the only one here who seems to be having any fun, and it’s a shame because some levity is badly needed in this drab potboiler.
Christensen plays Will, a wealthy stock broker who becomes embroiled in the bloody aftermath of a bank robbery while on a hunting trip with his son, Danny (Ty Shelton). After Danny is taken hostage by one of the criminals, Levi (Anthony), Will attempts to track down the stolen loot to exchange for his son while at the same time evading Howell (Willis), who suspects that Will may be more deeply involved in the situation than he lets on.
Though wildly implausible and overloaded with clunky exposition, Nick Gordon’s screenplay is at least suitably twisty, with one or two narrative curveballs. The story perks to life a bit in the unexpectedly intimate scenes between Danny and Levi, who displays a wisdom and understanding toward the boy that threatens to surpass that of Danny’s own father.
The film, however, is completely deadened by Miller’s flat, affectless direction, which makes even a would-be highlight like an ATV-and-pickup chase on an unpaved forest road feel like a time-killing afterthought. Deploying lots of shaky camera movements and cutaway shots to obvious stunt doubles, Miller’s action sequences are a choppy, barely coherent jumble, with Ryan Franks and Scott Nickoley’s score pounding away in the background. Lacking any vibrancy, wit, or formal rigor, First Kill is not only as bland and leaden as its über-generic title suggests, it’s downright sloppy to boot.