Brake

Stephen Dorff (IFC Films)

Directed by Gabe Torres
Written by Timothy Mannion
Produced by Torres, James Walker & Nathan West
Released by IFC Films
USA. 92 min.  Rated R
With Stephen Dorff, Chyler Leigh, Pruitt Taylor Vince, J R Bourne, Tom Berenger, Bobby Tomberlin, Kali Rocha & King Orba

At the start of Brake, Secret Service agent Jeremy Reins (Stephen Dorff) wakes up to find himself trapped inside of a box made of glass shaped to fit him length-wise like a coffin, and he discovers through a two-way radio that he is being held captive. By who, you might ask? Terrorists, of course, who want Jeremy to spill the beans on the president’s secret underground bunker, or else he, his estranged wife (Chyler Leigh), and others will be killed.

It’s pretty difficult on the outset to pull off an all-set-in-one-location film, a challenge Brake gets around through flashbacks and other twists and turns, but it’s been done before. This shouldn’t necessarily be a hindrance to the efforts of the filmmakers, except that the bar has been set high already by one well-known source (that will be much referred to by other critics and viewers in the know), Rodrigo Cortes’s Buried starring Ryan Reynolds, and also by the CSI episode “Grave Danger,” directed by Quentin Tarantino. And its other obvious influence/knock-off, the TV show 24, is irritatingly obvious. (It even includes an actual ticking clock and grainy, hand-held-but-not-too-shaky footage.)

In Brake, the ludicrous script by Timothy Mannion doesn’t give Jeremy much depth, past a suggestion that he was an a–hole to his wife and that he’s a won’t-budge kind of all-American hero. (His captors come up with different torturous ways to force him to talk.) And the tension and visual imagination of the by-the-numbers direction is slight at best.

Ultimately, the stakes presented for Jeremy are the kind that you either buy or you don’t. I just couldn’t, not because I’m too cynical (maybe I am), but because it felt like the filmmakers were going into that we’re-smarter-than-you route, so I was expecting the final plot twist to come, and then it arrived. The audience would be better off staying home watching its prime-time variations instead.

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