Most people act stupidly at least once during their college experience. But most usually move forward and chalk it up to being young and dumb. The legions of meatheads densely populating Will Canon’s fraternity-set crime drama Brotherhood are a special brood, not only repeating their inane actions again and again, but also screaming their justifications for such idiocy to the rafters so everyone within a 50-yard radius will clearly understand their stupidity. For a film about violent beatings, robbery, and blackmail, yelling out incriminating information usually doesn’t bode well for your future.
Brotherhood begins in the middle of a hazing ritual where upper classmen make the freshman pledges think they have to commit a robbery to join the frat. What better way to create unity than to commit a violent crime? Except it’s all just a ruse to prove worthiness and dedication to their brothers. But when a moment of miscommunication allows one of the pledges to actually commit the robbery, a bad situation turns drastically worse in an instant, and what begins as a small snowball of terrible inactions turns into a full blown avalanche. Adam (Trevor Morgan), the film’s moral center, gets embroiled in the mess immediately, surviving the opening shoot out only to be identified by the store clerk who just happens to be a high school acquaintance. This sends every character into a hysterical panic, each scurrying to cover the tracks of the crime by upping the ante to kidnapping, torture, and assault. These goons can only see one step ahead, and their constant bickering unfortunately prolongs an already weightless narrative structure.
Thematically, Brotherhood might be as simplistic as any American film this year. Each immoral action is given an obscene amount of expository dialogue, pummeling the viewer with countless scenes of pointless arguing. Notions of loyalty, comeuppance, and revenge are handled so poorly some of the most dramatic moments turn unintentionally funny. During a key moment, Adam and his fraternity leader, Frank (Jon Foster), have to fend off their house from a group of rampaging sorority sisters demanding retribution for an earlier prank that has nothing to do with the robberies. The screenplay is stricken with these kind of tangential conflicts that only prove these characters are even bigger douches than we first thought.
Making matters worse, Canon glorifies certain moments as if he’s trying to start new aggressive catchphrases on campuses across the country. “Brother or bitch,” Frank yells at Adam during a tense moment of indecision, as if there were only two types of people on this Earth. This type of arrogant phrasing encapsulates the film’s overarching fallacies about false community and friendship, but its leaden delivery suffocates any chance for subtext or nuance. Brotherhood only exists to further complicate the morally ambiguous lives of its characters, and it fails to make their plight anywhere close to interesting.
Finally, the obvious motif of victory and power becomes the steroids to Brotherhood’s raging physicality. Frank signifies this motif more than any other character, and in a speech during the film’s climax, he screams, “Guys like us don’t lose!” His hilariously limited perspective is expectedly followed by another tragic turn of events, one last damning detail these goofs missed during their night of debauchery. However, by this point, it’s almost a moot point whether they get caught or not. The massive amount of testosterone has completely numbed any chance of a worthwhile thriller, and those looking for one with any bite already tuned out a few chest-pounding arguments back.