'Brake': Mileage May Vary
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
After "Buried," which saw Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin, and "ATM," which saw three actors trapped in an ATM lobby by a psycho, we now have "Brake," starring Stephen Dorff as Secret Service agent Jeremy Reins, who comes to at the start of the film inside a Plexiglas box inside the trunk of a moving car. This claustrophobic trend does allow directors and writers to try to craft scenarios whose stakes are much bigger than their circumstance while their ideas are bigger than their budgets, with the audience's imagination doing a lot of the heavy labor picturing what's going on outside the sealed setting. At the same time, you have to wonder how far the trend will go. (I predict even closer-scale and money-saving settings in future films like "RV Shower" and "Confessional Booth," with the subgenre hiring smaller and smaller actors.)
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The movie's pitch and plot are adequate enough, as we soon learn that Reins is a Secret Service agent trusted with the day-by-day data about Roulette, a secret set of bunkers in the D.C. area for the president, vice president and national security advisor to escape to in the event of an attack ("Only a handful of people know where it is exactly; that's why it's called Roulette," a helpful voice on a CB explains to us.) Still, as Timothy Mannion's script explains through CB radio and cellphone and shouted conversations, Raines may be a bit of a mess elsewhere: He has gambling debts, and his marriage is in a bad place. And as information trickles into the sealed story of the film, we have to wonder about each piece of it: Is that important? How about that?
With Dorff squirming in the confines of the case, lit by brake lights and the occasional piece of technology, it's a credit to director Gabe Torres (a TV veteran making his first feature since 1991) that there's as much tension in the piece as there is. He isn't a superb actor, but he's a likable enough one as he flails and freaks out and tries to stay frosty, and there are few things that'll make someone as likeable as seeing him put in a glass coffin for mysterious reasons. (I may have to hand in my art-house nerd credentials for saying this, but Dorff is better, and more magnetic in this, than he is in the listless, lustrous "Somewhere.") There's also a countdown clock in the trunk, which hits zero and resets -- which, of course, makes you try to infer what might happen the one time it doesn't.
Structured, plotted and shot like a one-off "24" tie-in (Dorff, with his stubble, flannel and jeans, even looks like junior Jack Bauer), "Brake" heaps on series of twists. Can Raines trust the voice of his fellow captive on the other end of the CB? Can he convince his aggrieved wife (Chyler Leigh) that this is a real crisis over the phone? And where, as Raines bumps and jostles and speeds up and slows down, is the car he's in headed? Your engagement in these questions will depend entirely on how much enjoy the pitch and like Dorff, as well as how badly you suffer claustrophobia. Your mileage enjoying "Brake" may vary, but even if you spot the final destination coming, it's a pleasant enough joyride.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.