REVIEW: Frat House Hijinks Hit a New Low in Brotherhood

Movieline Score: 3

Stuff goes wrong in Brotherhood. Shit gets real, bottoms drop out, worse comes to worst and then some. Crowded with incident and untroubled by character, the film is an escalation machine that runs on clichéd coincidence and depends on everyone involved making the stupidest possible choices in any given situation. The machine gives off synthetic adrenaline as exhaust; trapped within the frame, its toxic cloud compounds the stupidity already on ample display. Director Will Canon has succeeded chiefly in creating a thriving micro economy inside of his very trying frat-house disaster flick, and dumbness is its GDP.

I can't imagine who would want to buy in; more to the point, it's a system that doesn't require investors. As aggressively unpleasant as the movie often is to watch, the quality of Brotherhood's badness throws the viewer clear, marking it as spectacle -- one notch below ordeal. From the opening frames the camera bobs and shudders as if it too has just hoovered a dinner plate of powdered Adderall. In the back of a van, Frank (Jon Foster) is bellowing at his frat pledges to take part in a hazing ritual: "Brother or bitch, what's it going to be?" The young men are each required to rob a variety store -- at gunpoint -- of $19.10. (In a line that may as well have been delivered to camera, we are told that 1910 is the year their frat was founded.) The most reluctant pledge, Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), winds up in the most trouble: A series of misunderstandings result in a shootout with a terrified store clerk named Mike (Arlen Escarpeta).

Adam (Trevor Morgan) knows Mike from high school, and so when all of the frat hopefuls pile into the store to save their buddy, who is shot through the shoulder and hiding in the soda aisle, the onus is on him to resolve the matter. When that doesn't work, they kidnap Mike -- who is black and therefore burdened with making the film's feeble swipe at racial consciousness -- and take him back to the frat house for a re-education, military-prison style. Also languishing at Date Rape Headquarters is Kevin and his oozing shoulder. If you've ever wondered how a bunch of blockheaded white boys would handle a bullet wound, you're in for a treat.

Around the fifth time Frank stopped someone from calling the police and commanded the on-site med student to fix his little "brother" (and the fifth time the med student insisted he was... just a med student), I wondered if Canon was going for Rules of Attraction-style darkness, or maybe the gleaming irony of the Coen brothers' Chinese finger-puzzle crime stories. But there's no satire underwriting the decadence and cruelty of these boys and no discipline to order the nihilism into a dread-fueled thriller. There's just a filmmaker who mistakes sustained panic for plot and chronic coincidence for clever twists.

What little moral conscience is in play emerges in Adam at unconscionable length; eventually he strikes a deal with the ludicrously martial Frank to get them to take poor, dying Kevin to a hospital. But even Adam's minor awakening is not enough to hang onto, and certainly the characters he's defined against are too indistinct themselves to throw him into relief. Frank succeeds in bending everyone -- female victims of his stunts, doctors, police officers -- to his will, operating under the organizing principle that brothers must stick together no matter what. But there is no sense of how a lowly frat might run a town like a mafia, what these men actually mean to each other, why anyone would want to join, or why the rituals they concoct for membership are so extreme. Brotherhood seems to sacrifice social and character study for a more demonstrative approach to its subject; definitely not a thinker, unfortunately, it's not much of a doer, either.