Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista and Pitch Perfect’s Brittany Snow team up for the Brooklyn-set war drama Bushwick. And both deserve better.
Each has proven a charming scene-stealer in their respective franchises, one as a good-hearted brute who doesn’t get figurative language, the other as a keyed up songstress who loves a shower duet. So, at first blush it seems Bushwick might be their chance to prove themselves as standout hereos, no longer quirky sidekicks! Unfortunately, Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott’s sloppy action flick offers them only hollow heroics, and DOA emotional beats.
Bushwick begins with light-hearted Lucy (Snow) returning home from college to visit her grandma’s house in Bushwick, and with her cute boyfriend Jose in tow (Broad City’s Arturo Castro). But no sooner do they stroll to the subway exit of the L train and stumble into a world of chaos. A screaming stranger engulfed in flames barrels down the subway stairs. Helicopters hover menacingly overhead, and gunfire streaks from rooftops snipers. Jose is almost immediately wounded, and Lucy tries for a brief moment to find help, but then abruptly forgets him and bolts for cover.
Every emotional moment in the film is treated the same way, with a flurry of screeching distress from our pretty heroine, then stiffly quelled by the story’s need to carry on. Lucy will see more deaths and horror, but will only react to them in fits before Bushwick hurries her onto the next tedious setup, killing any resonance such heartbreaks should bring.
Part of the problem is the film’s long take gimmick, which starts off ambitious, but swiftly turns irritating. When done right, long takes can sweep an audience up in the action, and awe us with the filmmaker’s ability to weave through stunts, locations, and expositional dialogue. But this is not Atomic Blonde or True Detective.
Bushwick stacks long take after long take, weaving us out of subway stations, down streets, into alleys, down into basements and up onto the rooftops of a local school. Yet not every sequence demands this treatment. The seams show as cuts are clearly made in dark doorways, or in close-ups of stairs. Some fight scenes are muddy to incomprehensible as pivotal action is lost outside of frame. But more frustrating is how this method means there’s no coverage or cutaways. So, we are stuck with blandly painted characters (I’m a janitor! I go to college!) as they slowly lumber up stairwells, or are stuck listening to Lucy’s shrieking and oversexed sister (Angelic Zambrana) natter on and on. First she threatens Stupe (Baustista), the big brooding lug who rescued her sister, then stoner Belinda forgets the end of the world for a moment to shove her kitty pantied crotch in his face. Because sure. Brooklyn, I guess.
Performances can’t be helped with close-up, intercutting, or cutting away, and some are even cut off at the knees by confoundingly amateurish staging. While Snow is pushed to race through emotional fits between action sequences, Bautista is given only one big moment. It’s a late-in-the-game monologue that unspools a tragedy-rich backstory that lazily loops in 9/11. And yet, Bautista manages to bring some depth to it. I think. Honestly, a lot of it is lost in tepid two-shot framing that has him staring mostly at the floor as he unfurls his heartache. Meanwhile Snow looks on numbly. But hey, at least they didn’t break from their long take gimmick, right?
Making matters worse is that Bushwick’s premise—which we teased with the film’s first trailer—is ludicrous, yet treated completely straight-faced. See, Texas and a string of other Southern states have had enough of us damn Yankees, yadda yadda, secession, yadda yadda taking liberal strongholds captive to assure the president signing off on secession. And by the way, these white men/militia members who decided to take Bushwick hostage chose this gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood because they thought its “ethno-diversity” would mean its residents would be less likely to band together and resist.
The expositional dialogue is jam-packed with lazy political jargon that completely ignores the actual layout and make-up of New York (Bushwick is tricky to get to, Queens has more diversity), while begging us to ignore that taking over a hip Brooklyn neighborhood wouldn’t be nearly as impactful as say shutting down the bridges and locking down Manhattan, where most of the rich and powerful people live. But cool cool. Whatever. For good measure, let’s also throw in a White Savior narrative where Lucy is presented as the only one who can round up a well-armed gang of black men and the local multi-ethnic church to take a stand against the angry white men who’d gladly mow them all down. Then after all this, let’s cut abruptly to an ending that’s nihilistic and in-your-face unsatisfying. Who needs heroes when you have pseudo-intellectual hipster bullshit?