There's a fine line between patriotism and outright jingoistic lunacy, a whisper thin wire that the new single setting suspense thriller Brake crosses time and time again. Within its very suspect and highly similar storyline (think Buried), our lead expresses enough "we don't negotiate with terrorists" tendencies to make even the most hardened Neo-Con smile with extremist joy. This is not to say that the thriller, occupying the same sort of set-up as the previously mentioned Ryan Reynolds effort, doesn't have its cinematic virtues. But when a political ideology is so intermingled within the various narrative threads offered, one can't help but feel a bit put off. Or bored.
Stephen Dorff is Jeremy Reins, a Secret Service agent who wakes up to find himself kidnapped and contained within a darkened plastic box in the trunk of a car. All he can see is a flashing timer and an access tube. Before long, he is in contact with his captors, radicals who demand to know where 'Roulette' is (the code word for the President's emergency bunker). Reins realizes this is a concerted effort for some manner of all out attack, especially after he speaks with fellow colleague Henry Shaw (JR Bourne) and his ex-wife (Chyler Leigh) is threatened. Through tortures both physical and psychological, our hero never budges. Even after his boss (Tom Berenger) tells him that he is one of many such people in peril, he will not betray his country.
Brake attempts the near impossible -- that is, making a one-setting plot with a one-note attitude work outside the strangled singular dogma being delivered. It's like watching a Jehovah's witness sit in a glass tube and deny the existence of science. Time and time again, screenwriter Timothy Mannion makes Dorff spew a particular party line, treating such blind adamancy as something akin to nobility. Even as aural cues indicate his stubbornness may be destroying the world, Reins remains forever and steadfastly "Amur-i-can." Mannion and director Gabe Torres might believe that this makes their character brave, or even a very good civilian foot soldier, but it doesn't make him a compelling character. Instead, we begin to anticipate Reins's responses, realizing before long that nothing he says will change the course of events.
Since the rest of the cast is nothing but voice work (that is, until the entirely goofy and beyond stupid double twist 'ending') it is up to Dorff to carry the remaining 80 minutes, and he just can't. It's not that he isn't a fine actor, he's just not given anything to work with. Spouting rhetoric for dialogue does not equal depth, and when he does finally have a chance to let his guard down, so to speak, subtlety is not his forte. Instead, Brake keeps bombarding us with limited action and excitement, hoping we will be entertained. Instead, we grow more and more aggravated as the narrative circles its purpose.
Though competently directed, given the location and restrictions, Brake is a bust. It's an idea for a short extended far beyond its creative shelf life. Since we know Reins will never "break," we aren't invested in his capture or release. Even worse, when the ending reveals the purpose of his imprisonment, it's like a slap in the face of his ferocious determination. In fact, if you're going to make your protagonist a figure of fundamentalist reproach (in this case, love of country), you shouldn't compromise that for the sake of spin. Brake is a movie that believes in the driven divine right of the US of A. Too bad that the end result is more tedious than a lecture on applied civics.