C+

Brake

Director Gabe Torres and screenwriter Timothy Mannion’s political thriller Brake stars Stephen Dorff as a Secret Service agent who wakes up in a Plexiglas case, inside the trunk of a moving vehicle. Inside his box Dorff has a CB radio, and a digital countdown clock that keeps ticking down to zero, at which point the clock resets and the vehicle either stops or resumes moving (depending on what it had been doing up to then). Initially, Dorff assumes that he’s been kidnapped because of his gambling debts, but as his captors question him—and as he desperately makes calls to his estranged wife and his superiors—Dorff quickly realizes that his captors are trying to get him to reveal what he knows about the location of the president’s emergency bunker. And every time Dorff calls out for help or seems close to escaping, he hears some innocent bystander die.

The structural similarities between Brake and the 2010 hit Buried are hard to ignore, given that there haven’t been too many movies that take place entirely in one extremely confined space, featuring one prone actor. There’s even a tacked-on subplot in Brake about the hero’s unsettled personal business, which he tries to sort out furtively in between his attempts to reach the authorities. (Again, just like Buried.) But there are some differences between the movies. Where Ryan Reynolds in Buried is essentially a nobody, Dorff is actually important; he’s a highly trained operative with vital information, which makes the stakes surrounding his abduction much higher, and his resourcefulness a little less impressive. And where Buried had a strong political subtext—about the way the modern war machine is fueled by poor schmoes just looking to make a buck—Brake is more about unblinking patriotism and cheap-thrill plot twists. It’s 24 in a trunk.

How viewers react to those twists will likely determine their overall opinion of Brake. Some of the abrupt turns are preposterous, while some are merely silly—and none seem motivated by anything other than the desire to keep the audience on its collective toes. (The scene where Dorff’s captors pipe killer bees into the trunk might be the moment where most people watching Brake decide whether to check out or to keep taking the ride.) Ridiculousness aside, though, Brake is reasonably impressive both as a performance piece and as an exercise in staging. Dorff and Torres make a lot out of very little, always keeping the audience aware of the larger world outside the small, dark space in which they’ve trapped us. It’s a minor feat, sure; but to generate actual excitement in such a tiny area deserves an equally tiny nod of appreciation.

For thoughts on, and a place to discuss, plot details not talked about in this review, visit Brake's Spoiler Space.

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