Author: Gus Baker
Ignore the Critics
After Thanksgiving dinner my family settled in after dinner for a tradition that many modern families share: Family Movie Night. It was my Dad’s turn to pick the film and he selected the critically lauded action/thriller Brawl in Cell Block 99. Brawl is an independent film, first screened at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, after which it received a limited theatrical release this past October. For this reason, it hasn’t been on the radar of most casual cinephiles. Critics have taken notice, awarding it an impressive 92% according to Rotten Tomatoes which indicates nearly universal acclaim. I am here to tell you that Brawl in Cell Block 99 is, unequivocally, a steaming pile of garbage. It’s the type of terrible, low-budget action flick that you’d expect to headline has-been-stars such as Steve Austin or Steven Seagal (see Maximum Conviction). I will make no effort to avoid spoilers when reviewing this abomination, as they are important to understanding just how awful this movie is.
A Promising Beginning
Despite its low budget, Brawl manages to score some Hollywood level talent which only barely manages to save it from being completely unwatchable. Vince Vaughn headlines as Bradley Thomas, a former boxer who now works in construction. After being laid off from his job, he turns to a life of crime as a drug courier for a major cartel run by a mysterious man known only as “The Boss,” in order to support his pregnant wife. After a botched drug pickup, he finds himself facing seven years in a medium-security prison. Life in prison seems easy enough, with Bradly receiving a private cell and ample access to classes, work programs, and rec time. However, things look as though they will take a turn for the worse when a prison guard who runs an underground boxing ring solicits Bradley to fight for him. When Bradly refuses, the guard threatens to make his life in prison difficult if he doesn’t fight. This seemingly important story line is almost immediately dropped and serves no other purpose than to establish that Bradley is a former boxer and thus “justifies” his superhuman fighting skills that appear throughout the film.
An Utterly Nonsensical Plot
Up to this point the film is actually rather palatable, I was even starting to get into it a bit. The film takes a complete nosedive when Bradley is approached by two affiliates of The Boss. They inform Bradley that The Boss is angry with him for losing his last shipment and has kidnapped his pregnant wife. The men inform him that if he does not murder a man named Christopher Bridge, who currently resides in maximum security prison, The Boss will have an abortionist perform a horrific operation upon his unborn child leaving it to be born alive but horrible disfigured. If that thought makes you squirm, strap in because the film only gets gorier from here. To get to maximum security, Bradley beats numerous prison guards within inches of their lives, cracking skulls and breaking arms as easily as you or I would crack an egg. This immediately gets him thrown into maximum security prison, with no paperwork or litigation.
The maximum security prison couldn’t be a starker contrast from the prior. Bradly’s cell is filthy, containing little more than a clogged toilet piled high with waste and a tiny bed with no sheets. In max there is 30 minutes of rec time a day, otherwise prisoners spend every minute in their cells. From an inmate in a neighboring cell Bradley learns that the mysterious Christopher Bridge is being held in the dreaded Cell Block 99: a super-secret, super-max prison wing located beneath the regular prison. Naturally, Bradley uses his first 30 minutes of rec time to crack more skulls and brutalize more guards, earning him a one-way ticket to Cell Block 99. The cells here are even smaller and filthier than the ones upstairs; complete with puke-stained beds and floors covered in broken glass. In a cruel twist of fate, it is revealed by Warden Tuggs (pictured above), played by Miami Vice’s Don Johnson, that there is no Christopher Bridge. The whole thing was just a ruse in order to get Bradley into Cell Block 99, where The Boss currently resides after having his entire operation spoiled by Bradley’s single botched pickup.
The Boss informs Bradley that he will remain in Cell Block 99 for the rest of his life, where he will be violently beaten and tortured by The Boss and his men, or else his wife and unborn daughter will be mutilated. This doesn’t sit well with Bradly, who responds by beating the Boss and his men to death, but not before forcing The Boss to call off his abortionist. Immediately following this altercation, Bradly is shot to death by Warden Tuggs, who remarks that it’s a shame he won’t live to see the birth of his daughter.
As I touched on earlier, clearly there is no such thing as paperwork in this version of reality, as the time from the first day of Bradley’s incarceration to the point where he is shot spans an entirety of three days. Despite this, the movie drags on and on, taking 132 minutes to reach the film’s high point, which occurs when the credits finally role.
Overall Rating 3/10 – The film had good cinematography and passable acting, everything else was unwatchable. I would not and DO NOT recommend.