Sweet suffering algorithmic chaos! What have we done to deserve this movie? I mean, on the plus side, I snort-laughed several times while watching Brazen. On the downside, absolutely none of it is actually intended as humorous. Here’s the thing, though, the acting is not as offensively bad as I expected, and the surprise of that mostly carried me through watching the movie. Well, that and Sam Page’s face, which I enjoy looking at. Am I being clear that this is a TERRIBLE movie? It feels like they were making a movie and then they got tired of making a movie, but they had to finish making a movie, so they put as little effort into making the movie as possible. Also, this movie has an actual run-time of an hour and thirty-four minutes, but a perceived run-time of five hours and fifty-nine minutes. Brutal. But, wow, did it make me laugh out loud.
Grace (Alyssa Milano) is a well-known mystery writer who, by her own description, writes about “the exploitation of women and misogyny and the patriarchy and how we do so very little to protect the most vulnerable.” In case you, like I did, think this sounds incredibly promising, please know that it has absolutely no bearing on this movie, which has nothing intelligible or intelligent to say about any of those things. Grace is in the middle of a book tour, reading VERY dramatically from one of her books, when she gets a call from her maybe estranged sister Kathleen (Emilie Ullerup), and drops everything to be with her in Washington, D.C.
Kathleen is a high school English teacher in recovery from an addiction to pills, who is desperate to get partial custody of her young son from her very wealthy (and very nasty) ex-husband. (This is laid out in about three minutes so we can hurry up and get to the murdery stuff. Geez, nobody cares about your positive life choices, Kathleen!) The two sisters have some extremely melodramatic conversations about, I can’t really remember about what, but finances and love and money and blackmail and such. You know, the usual cozy sister stuff.
Now, of course, what Grace doesn’t know is that to make some extra cash Kathleen is also a web-cam dominatrix. She has a room that must have cost an entire fortune to outfit that she keeps locked up like Ft. Knox. (I exaggerate about the locks. There is one padlock.) I guess in case her son comes to visit? Anyway, you know what happens to women who do the sex work in movies like this one? Very bad things. That’s what! Nobody is judging them for their work. They would never! But by odd coincidence sex workers keep getting killed and stuff. So, the message seems to be that sex work is totally, totally cool (really), except that it’s also very dangerous because it gives emotionally unstable people (but men especially) a reason to hate and hunt women. And a movie like this one isn’t going to offer any kind of solution or way forward that provides more protection or control or respect for sex workers. It’s just going to continue to perpetuate the idea of them as victims. Okay, so I guess this is, in fact, commenting on the exploitation of women and misogyny and the patriarchy, but not in the positive way that I imagined when Alyssa Milano’s character made her speech.
Anyway, all of a sudden it’s like we’re dropped into a whole other movie because it cuts to a man in a convenience store buying an herbal tea and a coffee. Then, an armed robber bursts into the scene, demanding cash and valuables. The tea and coffee man appears to be complying with the gunman’s request for his phone and wallet until, without warning, he’s disarming the gunman and tackling him in aisles. In the midst of this chaos, another man walks through the store’s front door, leans down over the two men still locked into combat, and asks the coffee and tea man where his coffee is. Okay, so I was wrong again, there is this one moment of attempted humor, which is somehow even worse? With the gunman now arrested, the two men leave the store, and the coffee-drinking-man says to the coffee-and-tea-man, “Trouble finds you, Detective. That’s all I’m saying.” And all I’m saying is that this overly complicated, confusing, throwaway scene will be important in about five minutes (or one perceived hour).
The next day, while Kathleen goes off to mold young minds with Hamlet, Grace stays home to make faces at her computer screen while she presumably murders some magical prose. (Or does the crossword puzzle.) But hark! What’s that she hears? A miter saw from next door! Instead of doing what people have done since the dawn of power saws—sigh, stuff earplugs in their ears, and slam all the windows—she leans out the window (which doesn’t have a screen? In D.C.? This is a very bad idea!) to chat with the hunky neighbor (Sam Page), who assures her he’s almost done cutting. She says something about how he should measure twice and he calls back something about only having to cut once. (This conversation is already wildly unrealistic and just not good at all. It’s like it was written using only second-rate greeting cards and inspirational posters.) Determined to procrastinate the heck out of her day, Grace pops over to introduce herself and offer him a cup of coffee. (Probably a euphemism.) I felt like I had missed several scenes, but, nope, someone just thought this made sense. It turns out that Ed, who only drinks herbal tea, is a police detective on vacation after solving a huge cold case, and he is the same man who just had a wrestling match in the convenience store last night. Gasp. What. Are. The. Chances.
He’s a homicide detective. She writes about pretend homicides. He’s read her books. She Googles him. There are sparks. Later that day, the two head out to a nice dinner where she presents him with a mental puzzle about a made up murder. Meanwhile, Kathleen gets real, real murdered in her own house. Major bummer for Kathleen.
What’s most brazen about this movie is how they throw any verisimilitude out the window when Ed doesn’t have a conflict of interest in becoming the lead detective on Kathleen’s murder investigation when he’s ALSO clearly deeply interested in investigating Grace’s erogenous zones. And then! And then they have the audacity to have Grace STAY AT HIS HOUSE DURING THE INVESTIGATION because she just can’t stand the idea of staying at a hotel. Oh, sure. Fine. Whatever. Nothing matters anymore.
From this point forward, you can pretty much forget about anything making sense or following logic. Just throw up your hands, sit back, relax, and let yourself sink into the nonsensicalness of it all. This movie is going to throw so many red herrings at you that if you pickled them, you would have enough food to last all winter. At the same time, the murderer is so obvious that they might as well have a large bullseye painted in the middle of their forehead and a neon arrow floating above them. It’s a delicate balancing act, really, to have both these things happening simultaneously in one movie. I’d keep telling you about the plot, but it’s so lacking in dramatic tension that I’m afraid we both might doze off.
May I please tell you about some of the dialogue? Please. Because this is where I did almost injure myself snorting. My husband wandered through the room and asked if I was watching a comedy. Friends, I couldn’t answer because I was laughing too hard. At one point a man is speaking about another web-cam dominatrix and he says, “I mean, she’s quite special. We have a…We have a good rapport.” First of all, “quite special” makes me feel quite nauseated, and I can only hope that’s how the line was intended. But, a rapport? Is this web-cam relationship even a two-way street? Whatever. That’s irrelevant. The point is that NO ONE says that about sexual partner, even a virtual one.
Another time, when Grace is trying to convince the police Captain that she should be allowed to work the case she says, “I have an instinct for motive. I mean, it’s why my books are so successful.” Hoo boy. I’m not even going to pull that apart. I do so want to tell all you about the part where Grace asks the Captain to let her do something incredibly dangerous, and the Captain is just like, Sure thing! However, I can’t give you details without spoilers. You may want to watch just for that moment, which is pure (unintended) comedy gold. Two of my favorite lines, though, were from Ed when he’s speaking to Grace, who he’s known for, like, a week? He tells her, “if anything ever happened to you I would lose my mind.” So romantic. Another time when things are getting very hot and heavy he says, “Grace, once isn’t going to be enough.” Yes, because so often human adults find that one time of having sex with someone they’re attracted to and like is more than enough to satisfy them. Wouldn’t she be so flattered to find that just once was enough for him?!?
All that said, I can’t bring myself to tell you not to watch Brazen. It’s a singular experience to watch something this openly bad, and who am I to deny you that? As of this writing, Brazen is ranked number two on Netflix in the United States and has an IMDb score of 3.8, which, if you think about it, is quite an accomplishment. How many movies can make that same claim? However, if you do choose to watch it, you really need to open yourself up to it. Unashamedly, let yourself ride the waves of substandard plotting, woeful dialogue, regrettable acting, shoddy characters, and godawful ending. Brazenly embrace the mediocrity.