Mainstream Monday: The Bruce Willis Tournament

By Greg Foster

It’s April, but I’ve still got March Madness. Sure, basketball is fun and all, but the real reason I love March is that I, like most folks, love a good tournament. There’s just something fun about forcing opponents to go head-to-head, winner takes all, loser goes home, etc. Since I’m not quite ready to break out of “bracket-brain” just yet, I’ve decided to keep the tourney party alive by highlighting the many action film faces of Bruce Willis. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, in today’s Mainstream Monday (and continued into the final results next week), I’m going to highlight the most hardcore characters in Willis’ impressive action legacy and see just who is the biggest, baddest and Bruciest of them all.

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s definitely John McClane. I know, I know. I automatically assumed that as well. But I think if you’ll stick with me you might be surprised to discover there are a more than a few Willis roles that can hold their own with everybody’s favorite put-upon policeman. There is one caveat, however: since Willis has engaged in several straight-to-DVD roles as of late, this tournament won’t be an exhaustive list. Instead I’m going to try to focus on Willis’ most notable roles.

With the many worthy candidates narrowed down to a more manageable sixteen, it’s time to give them seeds and see how the rounds are going to fall. Since this entire thing is pretty arbitrary to begin with, I devised two categories to break up the sixteen into equal halves. The categories are characters who operate ‘Inside the Law’ and characters who operate ‘Outside the Law’. Of course, most of Willis’ characters are ‘Above’ the law, but let’s not let this thing devolve into semantics, okay? Here’s how the seeds are arranged:

Inside The Law
1 - John McClane - Die Hard
2 - Frank Moses - Red
3 - Tom Greer - Surrogates
4 - David Dunn - Unbreakable
5 - Joe Hallenbeck - Last Boyscout
6 - Korben Dallas - The Fifth Element
7 - Chief Jeff Talley - Hostage
8 - Det. Jack Mosley - 16 Blocks

Outside The Law
1 - The Jackal - The Jackal
2 - Mr. Goodkat - Lucky Number Slevin
3 - Hartigan - Sin City
4 - Last Man Standing - John Smith
5 - Church - Expendables
6 - Lt. Muldoon - Planet Terror
7 - Jimmy ‘The Tulip’ Tudeski - Whole Nine Yards
8 - Butch Coolidge - Pulp Fiction

There are probably a million or so ways to do this Tournament. I would have liked to land at a less arbitrary formula for choosing winners than what I have, but unfortunately my resources are a bit limited so I can’t do some of the necessary legwork like adding up how many fights or kills or whatever the determined categories may be. Instead I decided to do it Sesame Street style (in other words, I used my imagination). I tried to imagine what it would look like if these characters faced off one-on-one, winner take all. You may not agree with my results but hey, that’s what the comments section is for! So without further ado, it’s time to get this thing goin:

ROUND 1 - Inside the Law Bracket

(1) John McClane Vs. (8) Jack Mosley
Two detectives go head to head in this first matchup and that’s just the beginning of their similarities. Both have their struggles at home and both have their share of history with “the drink.” But they both have shown that they sober up rather quickly once the bullets start flying. They also both seem to have an extremely high threshold for pain. But while they share many traits there seems to be one glaring difference that, for me at least, makes this an easy choice. Whereas John McClane will only die one way (hard) and for one reason (he can’t live free), Jack Mosley wants to die. He wants to die because he knows he’s a fraud. His quest to take Mos Def Sixteen Blocks is only something he is so passionate about because it will mean his redemption. While John McClane has certainly fallen out of the good graces of law enforcement, he has never fallen on the wrong side of the law the way Jack has. Jack was a crooked cop for a while, and that just doesn’t sit right. That knowledge alone should be enough for John McClane to put his fellow Detective right out of the Tournament.
Winner: John McClane

(2) Frank Moses Vs. (7) Jeff Talley
My initial reaction to this matchup is that Jeff Talley doesn’t have a chance. Sure, he worked for the FBI, but as a hostage negotiator. He spends most of his time talking his opponent down not taking them out. He’s a master at playing off of people’s emotions, manipulating them until they are right where he wants them, sometimes literally (i.e. right in front of a window so a sniper can take them out). But he won’t find any room to maneuver here because he is going up against CIA operative Frank Moses. Yes he may be retired and a bit past his prime, but he is sharp as a tack mentally and physically. He’s not opposed to playing a few mind games of his own either. Talley has shown himself to be a bit creative when put to the test (taping his gun hand to the back of a man’s head via his neck comes to mind) but in the end my initial reaction is correct, Frank Moses knocks him out of the contest quick, fast and in a hurry.
Winner: Frank Moses

(3) Tom Greer Vs. (6) Korben Dallas
So far the top seeds have had little trouble knocking off their opponents. I think that’s all about to change here. I smell an upset in the making. Tom Greer is a tough, but mainly because he’s a cyborg (surrogate, whatever). But he’s only as quick on his feet as the person controlling him. Korben Dallas is John McClane if he were from the future. He’s the kind of guy that time and technology may have passed by, but when push comes to shove he will do whatever it takes to pull out an upset over guys bigger, faster and stronger than himself. And he’s not afraid to learn how to use a new fancy gun if he thinks it will give him the edge. I think Greer-borg puts up a heck of a fight, but in the end Korben Dallas just finds a way to pull out the upset.
Winner: Korben Dallas

(4) David Dunn Vs. (5) Joe Hallenbeck
These two are almost a push as far as rankings go, but the perceived edge Dunn has is only because he is so hard to hurt. His big weakness, however, is that he’s still a novice with his power. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing yet. In fact, the first time he tries to use it to rescue a family he almost drowns himself in a pool. Hallenbeck is not unbreakable by any means, but he’s a scrapper. He’s a street fighter. He’s the kind of guy whose not afraid to keep punching even when his hands are broken. Dunn may be a tough guy to bring down, but in the end he’s not even close to Hallenbeck’s level of toughness, and that’s why I gave the victory to the Last Boyscout himself. Another upset, albeit a very small one.
Winner: Joe Hallenbeck

A mostly predictable first round for “good guys”. Let’s see how things go for Bruce’s baddies.

Round 1 - Outside The Law Bracket

(1) The Jackal Vs. (8) Butch Coolidge
The ‘Outside the Law’ bracket kicks off with an incredible mismatch. Don’t get me wrong, Butch is a guy who can definitely take care of himself; even in situations that lend new meaning to the term ‘hardcore pawn’. But at the end of the day, he’s more of a small-timer, and the Jackal swims in international waters. (Jackals swim, right?) The Jackal is the go-to-guy for the big-time players when they need somebody out of the way or they need to send a very clear and very public message. He’s a chameleon who has no fear and never hesitates to pull the trigger when an opportunity presents itself. If things ever get down to bare hands versus bare hands, sure, Butch might have a fair shot. But something tells me the Jackal would never allow things to get that far, and so I have no choice but to give him the win.
Winner: The Jackal

(2) Mr. Goodkat Vs. (7) Jimmy “The Tulip” Tudeski
This pairing is a little less clear-cut for me. Mr. Goodkat and “Tulip” Tudeski are pretty much the same guy, except Tudeski seems to have a bit more of a sense of humor. Both are hired guns for the mob, both keep mostly to themselves, both have oddly cute-sounding names, and both have attractive young sidekicks they’re molding into full-blown artists with a gun. They also both seem to share the same weakness: mercy. When a hit man decides to spare the life of a target (in Mr. Goodkat’s case), or an incredibly annoying neighbor (Matthew Perry in Tudeski’s case), their entire career is thrown into question. So how do you give an advantage to one of two nearly identical characters? In this case, I’m going to factor in sharpness and approach. Tudeski is a hard case but he seems to have gotten a bit soft in his retirement years. Goodkat shows no signs of this. Whether it’s busting through a wall to take out a group of thugs or arranging a play to simultaneously take down two mob bosses and their entire operations, Goodkat doesn’t seem to have lost any edge. On the contrary he appears to still be at the top of his game. As far as approach is concerned, Tudeski seems to view his work as almost an art (for example: his namesake), while Goodkat seems far more interested in function than formality, and for those reasons, I’m giving him the advantage over ‘The Tulip’.
Winner: Mr. Goodkat

(3) Hartigan Vs. (6) Lt. Muldoon
The matchup between Lt. Muldoon and former Detective Hartigan seems a bit tragic when you think about it. The only reasons these two can be included in the ‘Outside the Law’ bracket, are direct results of a bad set of circumstances. Lt. Muldoon, according to legend, is the man who personally killed Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately his entire company is infected and brings that infection back to the states, resulting in zombies and other chaos. Hartigan is wrongly accused of raping a girl as part of a massive cover-up and must confess to that horrible crime as his only hope of gaining parole so that he can protect her. Unfortunately for Muldoon, he seems doomed from the start. He’s definitely hardcore, but he’s (unsuccessfully) fighting off a ravaging virus so even if Hartigan wasn’t the insanely tough guy he is, he could simply run out the clock on Muldoon. That doesn’t seem like Hartigan’s style though, so I see him taking Muldoon head on and overcoming him by sheer force of will. He’ll probably take a bullet or two in the process, but that’s never stopped him before.
Winner: Hartigan

(4) John Smith Vs. (5) Mr. Church
Two guys with obviously fake names square off here, with Willis at two very different stages of his career. Both of these roles are iconic for different reasons. In Last Man Standing (and The Last Boyscout), Willis seemed to ditch the comedic persona for something a lot harder. He loses the smirk and gains the grimace that would go on to define a lot of his later work in action. Never is he tougher than in the role of John Smith, who takes a vicious beating but still comes out with guns blazing, broken ribs and all. Mr. Church appears here more on reputation than anything else. Though we may see more of him in the second Expendables film, his short appearance in the first sets him up as someone who should definitely not be trifled with. The fact that he is assigned to recruit teams led by guys like Stallone and ‘The Arnold’, means he knows how to deal with those kinds of people. The fact that he verbally backhands them repeatedly during the conversation makes it obvious that he is just as dangerous himself. Unfortunately, reputation gets you only so far, and while Smith may not be the best at hand-to-hand combat, with a gun he is nigh unbeatable. In defeating Mr. Church here, he sets himself up as a dark horse to be reckoned with in the ‘Outside the Law’ bracket.
Winner: John Smith

Four matchups and not a single upset in the bunch. Looks like things might be just a bit tougher in the ‘Outside the Law’ bracket. On to Round 2!

Round 2: ‘Inside The Law’ Bracket

(1) John McClane Vs. (5) Joe Hallenbeck
I find it a bit ironic that these two are facing off here as I’ve always seen Joe as sort of an extension of the McClane character. You can almost squeeze him into the space between Die Hards 2 and 3. He’s heading down a spiral of drunkenness, loses his wife, falls out of favor with the police force, yet manages to save the day in a huge way. It’s easy to imagine when a drunken McClane is picked up at the beginning of Die Hard: With A Vengeance, that he was trying to sleep off the inevitable celebration of his victory at the end of The Last Boy Scout. These two are so similar in style and make-up that it’s hard to declare either one a clear winner. But even though Hallenbeck definitely displays a certain brutality that McClane may not possess, McClane has made a career out of surviving instances where he is either evenly or out-matched. For that reason, McClane moves on.
Winner: John McClane

(2) Frank Moses Vs. (6) Korben Dallas
Wow, here’s a hard one. Korben Dallas is basically John McClane in space, while Frank Moses is John McClane if he actually had the training to pull off some of the stunts he works in Live Free Or Die Hard. Moses is a veritable encyclopedia of tactics and hand-to-hand combat, whereas Dallas seems more like the kind of guy who makes things up as he goes. Dallas definitely has the advantage of youth and maybe a bit of space-age technology at his disposal, but something tells me the wily old Moses would find a way to stay one step ahead of him, even if things came down to the nitty-gritty of hand-to-hand combat. Moses dispatches Dallas while the refrains of “Back in the Saddle” rock out ever so appropriately.
Winner: Frank Moses

Round 2: ‘Outside The Law’ Bracket

(1) The Jackal Vs. (4) John Smith
In the tournament of Bruce Willis, you’re not likely to find two guys who know how to give a better stare-down than these two Willis characters. The Jackal clearly has no soul to offer and only displays emotion in an attempt to catch you off-guard. Smith operates in much the same way, only breaking stride long enough to help the occasional damsel-in-distress to retain what’s left of her dignity. These two are not the kind to let a fight come down to fisticuffs. They’re definitely most lethal with a gun (or in the Jackal’s case a massive turret) in their hands. I imagine this one comes down to a final stand-off, old West style. Smith proved his mettle when, even with debilitating injuries, he faced down the former fastest gun in Christopher Walken. In a quick-draw for the ages, Smith pumps the Jackal full of holes while suffering only a bullet or two himself. He’s on a run now, he just might end up the ‘Last Man Standing’…..I apologize.
Winner: John Smith

(2) Mr. Goodkat Vs. (3) Hartigan
The battle lines are clearly drawn here, as on one side we have a clinician in Mr. Goodkat. Coolly efficient and criminally effective, Goodkat is all about the bottom line, getting the job done and moving on. On the other side is Hartigan, who is 100% man on a mission. Hartigan’s drive to achieve his goal has proven to be enough to keep him alive against all odds before. You can come after him however you want, but he keeps breathing. Goodkat clearly has the upper-hand in both skills and smarts and opens up with a huge lead. But something tells me Hartigan would just keep pushing until he was able to swing things in his favor, ultimately finding a chance to overpower Mr. Goodkat. He barely makes it out alive, but Hartigan is your winner here.
Winner: Hartigan

The “Inside the Law” bracket basically played out like I figured it would. But again the “Outside the Law” bracket, with a couple of upsets, looks like the much harder path to trod. Check back in next week for the semi-finals as McClane squares off against Moses, and the mysterious John Smith looks to finally take down Hartigan.

Host of Next Projection's ongoing Mainstream Monday series. I enjoy the occasional film, but most of the time I just watch movies. I'm no film student; just an old-fashioned homemade addict of cinema.