Sunday, April 15, 2012

Brake (B-)

An infinite number of films, no matter the quality of their opening two thirds, crumble when attempting to reach a conclusion. Whether it be an imaginative action-comedy succumbing to generic violence during its final shootout (21 Jump Street), a romantic drama willing to twist reasonability and character logic for the titular lovers to be coupled by the end (Chico and Rita), or a romantic comedy inexplicably turning into a mediocre melodrama for, well, I'm not necessarily sure (Friends with Kids), no movie is immune to a final third collapse. The three films referenced under parentheses, for example, were each movies I greatly enjoyed until cases of third act self immolation. Because of the severe lack of subtlety in this introduction, it may be easy to conclude that the subject of this review fell victim to the "conclusion collapse", and you'd be completely right. This is the review of a decent, well acted thriller, which was going full throttle entertainment wise until the screenplay hit the brakes for a truly terrible culmination. Though that may've perhaps been the worst pun ever featured on the site, the ending of the film was probably a little worse. Before moving on, let that fact sink in a bit.

Starring Stephen Dorff (Public Enemies) as a CIA operative locked inside the trunk of a car by terrorists seeking information on the president's secret bunker during a terroristic attack, Brake could best be considered as a two-hour special episode of Kiefer Sutherland's 24 in which Jack Bauer is locked in a box, and his hostage takers enjoy Nicolas Cage's cult unintentional comedy The Wicker Man. In case you are unsure, this is a compliment. Spending 90 minutes with one character inside a single tight, claustrophobic location could easily become dull and tiresome, but while the scenarios and ordeals Dorff's character is forced through are at times nothing short of absolutely ridiculous, his excellent performance brings a John McClane essence to the film, and the result is well acted pure popcorn entertainment. Until its disappointing eventual reveal, we are also mystified as to why these terrorists have rigged the trunk like a cage, and what their reasoning is for keeping this character alive. Because the camera never leaves the trunk, we only know as much as Dorff knows, leading us to question the identities of who's being talked to, and what is real and what is manipulation. It's thrilling and mysterious, with some entertaining dumb fun included to show how far Dorff is willing to push himself not to reveal the president's location.
Brake was written by Timothy Mannion, a man with no other writing credits listed on IMDb. It was directed by a Gabe Torres, a man with no other feature length directing credits listed on IMDb. Because of their joint lack of movie making experience (though Torres has directed a wide variety of television specials), it's understandable why the film ended the way it did, but someone along the way should've spoken up about the quality of the ending. An editor, an actor, or even an audience member for an early screening should've explained that the conclusion needed to be trashed and rewritten, but clearly that didn't happen. I will not spoil the film in this review, but two back-to-back twists occur which annihilate any mystery the film once had, and nearly destroy any fond memories of what came before. It's a conclusive "Screw You!" to the audience; twists so abysmal even M. Night Shyamalan wouldn't touch it. In fact, he'd probably get aggravated about them himself. Here's advice: Stop watching the film with around fifteen minutes left. You'll be a little curious how it ended, but curiosity is far more acceptable than crushing disappointment.
In spite of its ending, which will hopefully be quickly forgotten and never discussed again, Brake is an incredibly entertaining popcorn film with an excellent performance from Stephen Dorff. If the idea of watching a guy trapped in a trunk for an hour and a half seems dull, you may want to think again. You'll be missing out on two thirds of an excellent thriller.
Grade: B-

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