Review: Bushwick Is a Timely, Video Game-y Action Flick for Dave Bautista
'90s kids not from New York might associate the name Bushwick with a diminutive rapper from the Geto Boys who, in a fit of drunkenness, decided to become the ultimate A Christmas Story cautionary tale and literally shot his own eye out. While the movie is about the neighborhood, there's definitely a subtext of America shooting itself in the face, metaphorically and literally, so you be the judge of whether or not your mind's playing tricks on you in connecting the two.
Lucy (Brittany Snow) and the dorky guy who's probably her boyfriend are about to take the subway when the PA announces that all services have been suspended, just as Lucy notices there's nobody else at all in the station with them. Well, except for the screaming guy on fire who just ran past them. After the best, most loaded "I'll be right back!" rule violation in movie history, Lucy finds herself alone on the streets of New York, where firefights have broken out, and black helicopters of a suspiciously New World Order-y sort roam the skies. All she wants to do is get to grandma's house, and with her notably red coat, one senses a fairy-tale metaphor coming, but that's dispensed with soon enough, in favor of a blatant Call of Duty shoutout and a surprisingly timely undercurrent.
Though Bushwick gets a bit nastily retrograde in its introduction of the movie's other hero -- Dave Bautista blows in to save the day right as our blonde heroine is about to be raped at gunpoint by two stereotypically delinquent black youths straight out of a '70s Charles Bronson flick -- it reverses auto-prejudice course later in the story when we learn that the gunfights are part of a new American Civil War, with the South seceding again. In the story's sharpest bit of satire, the new Confederacy has foolishly decided to attack Bushwick because they're convinced that a multi-racial neighborhood with gun-control laws will be weak and easily taken. Cooties directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott couldn't have anticipated just how well-timed their release would be; you half expect at least one authority figure to pointedly condemn both sides.
Bautista never quite got the A-list movie treatment like The Rock, or even Steve Austin...besides Guardians of the Galaxy, he's mostly starred in direct-to-video fare since retiring from the wrestling ring. But the upside to that is that he doesn't have to be the hero every time, and is free to take on more interesting roles. Here, his former Marine-turned-janitor Stupe may be the male lead, but he's not the alpha male you'd expect; soft-spoken and even whimpering at times, he's a traumatized man who can't stand being vulnerable. A climactic sensitive monologue is a bit much, and feels like hokey actor-service, but if we'd known he had this much of a knack for character-acting before, hell, we might not have booed him when he returned to WWE to fight Daniel Bryan.
Aside from the "I'll be right back" moment, Bushwick tosses out the rulebook with a vengeance: drug use doesn't necessarily equal death, vengeance isn't always righteous, and there are no protected classes on this battlefield, which in its best moments combines the role-reversal/neighborhood pride of Attack the Block with the "we are the enemy" mentality of The Purge. Sound mixer Richard Hart manages to imply a lot more is going on outside the frame than we can actually see, though it's sometimes at the expense of hearing key lines of dialogue.
The movie's chief visual gimmick (albeit one this writer was not aware of until afterward) is a faux "single tracking shot" style that supposedly never cuts away, though it obviously does at times. Other reviewers bothered by this premise seem to have punished the movie for it, but if you didn't know that was supposed to be the deal, the effect is of subtly dropping the viewer into a combat video game, and slowly discovering bits and pieces of story in between shootouts, as one does.
It may not blow your eyes away -- some of the gun hits and explosions are pretty obvious CG -- but like the Geto Boys it maybe references, Bushwick is a movie always in motioin that, once started, can't be stopped.
Images: RLJ Entertainment