Until its pair of ludicrous twist endings, which complicates its message and logistics in ways that make little sense, Gabe Torres’s Brake plays like a more simplistic version of Buried tailored specifically to a hawkish right-wing crowd. Except whereas Rodrigo Cortés’s 2010 film milked genuine suspense from its protagonist-trapped-in-a-single-claustrophobic-setting and showed some sense of wider political understanding by making its hapless hero an Iraq War contractor, Brake not only slogs along with arbitrarily altering camera angles and weak suspense-building devices, it posits its grizzled Secret Service protag as an unimpeachable patriot who won’t give an inch to the terrorists.
In fact, Torres’s film might make a fit double feature with the recent über-patriotic atrocity Act of Valor in that both seem to confirm the traditional us vs. them narrative of the war on terror. Brake muddies its picture somewhat by suggesting that members of the U.S. government might be aiding and abetting terrorists, but this seems less like geopolitical nuance than easy everyone-is-rotten cynicism.
Also, both films are surprisingly unkinetic. Or rather, whereas Act of Valor is too aggressively agitated to register any kind of legible kineticism, Brake has no idea how to overcome its essentially static setup. Kidnapped and locked inside a glass tank in the trunk of a car, Secret Service hotshot Jeremy Reins (a one-note Stephen Dorff) is subjected to a series of tortures both psychological (a timer perpetually counting down to some fresh set of torments) and physical (a swarm of insects introduced into the tank) as his unknown kidnappers try to get him to reveal the secret location of the president’s emergency underground hideout. But no matter what lame gimmick screenwriter Timothy Mannion keeps thinking up, Torres manages to generate little suspense from the material, mostly because we know at all times that Reins is too noble to give up the dope.
The Secret Service agent’s resolve is doubled when he starts hearing radio reports of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that have befallen the United States, a determination that never wavers even when he finds out that the terrorists have kidnapped his estranged wife. Essentially, Torres presents us with a view of the unimpeachable American defending the homeland at great personal sacrifice. Or at least he does until the end, when the aforementioned twists muddy the picture considerably.
If the film finally makes little practical sense, the lingering impression is of one noble man standing up against America’s enemies. But given the film’s cynicism and scare tactics, this is a movie that seems less about heroism than about reminding us of the very grave dangers facing our country from both without and within. Brake is no different than an average fear-mongering news broadcast, but at least such a program is typically savvy enough to offer up a slick, breezy half-hour of infotainment. As political cinema, Brake may be gross; as a good time at the movies, it’s a total non-starter.