Any self-respecting American would rather watch John Cena play a Rambo pastiche than watch Trey Songz do literally anything other than sing “Can’t Help But Wait.”
Pro wrestling magnate Vince McMahon’s erstwhile filmmaking wing WWE Studios continues to affix its misleading logo to a variety of straight-to-video genre exercises, each with varying shades of sincerity. For whatever reason, McMahon and his people think that helping to produce films with some measure more prestige than their wrestler-starring fare like The Marine and 12 Rounds will make the public at large take the WWE more seriously. Unfortunately, these movies tend to be just as ridiculous, if not more so, than the vanity projects they’ve spent decades funding.
Take Blood Brother, an off-kilter crime thriller from director John Pogue (writer of The Skulls and US Marshalls.) The film follows a police detective named Sonny who, in his teenage years, was a criminal. In his youth, Sonny and his friends got away with $3 million in cash from a botched armored car heist, but one of the guys in their crew, Jake, took the rap. Fifteen years later, Jake is released from prison, but rather than celebrate with his former friends and split the profits from their bounty, he loses his mind and wreaks havoc on Sonny’s life, hunting the old gang down one by one.
On the surface, it’s a high-concept genre piece with some genuine potential. C’mon, a low-budget crime thriller doubling as a slasher flick, where the killer is a stunted youth indiscriminately lashing out at everyone he blames for stealing his childhood away? That could be an exciting proposition, with ample room to explore the tragic complexities of the American judicial system, about how many young offenders are punished with impunity, leaving no room for genuine rehabilitation. Good job, WWE! You’ve come a long way from Triple H’s sterling turn in The Chaperone.
But not so fast. See, that detective? He’s played by R&B singer Trey Songz, a charismatic musician who, as an on-screen presence, has the dramatic range of a stale slice of flan. Oh, and Jake? The character that should, on paper anyway, perfectly encapsulate the plight of young black men corrupted and used up by the prison industrial complex? He’s a white dude. The only white dude in the crew. Now, that’s not to say Jack Kesy (Deadpool 2’s Black Tom Cassidy) isn’t compelling in the role. He’s actually the most entertaining person in the movie.
It’s just that his casting is emblematic of everything else that’s wrong with this film’s execution. That captivating set-up means nothing if it’s presented with shoddy, choppy editing and lackluster direction, and if it’s casted like someone glued a ouija board to an iMDB search engine. Pogue lenses the entire film with this completely frustrating insistence on hand-held camera at all times, so the frame is never still, always drifting or needlessly unsteady. It’s definitely done in the name of kinetic dynamism, but it just makes the viewer’s head hurt. The action is messy. The dialogue is intermittently and unintentionally hilarious. Also, for a movie written by two separate adult human beings, the plot lacks basic elements of cohesion, and characters are constantly making decisions and pursuing actions at odds with their established motivations and personalities.
Basically, it’s as poorly made and ruinous as human ingenuity and money could provide. There are bright spots, of course. Namely Kesy’s central performance, which unfairly stands out above his peers for the simple reason that he’s the only one written with any actual effort. Everyone else in the narrative, especially Songz’ Sonny, seems purposely boring or unlikable. Imagine Heath Ledger’s Joker performance if instead of old Tom Waits clips, Ledger exclusively listened to interviews with Soundcloud rappers for preparation. (Okay, that’s just Jared Leto’s Joker performance, but still.)
It’s an interesting enough exhibition for an up-and-coming actor that would be fine if it wasn’t the core of a film so otherwise concerned with a performative obsession with “the hood,” down to the omnipresent trap needle drops on the soundtrack to the confounding inclusion of rapper/singer Fetty Wap as a random kingpin. Blood Brother is little more than wasted potential in a lowest common denominator part of the film market where over-performing is as easy as Not Fucking Everything Up.
That the film’s only other bright spot is a cameo appearance from WWE wrestler R-Truth as a sadistic pimp proves what logical people have known all along: if McMahon wants to put his brand and wealth behind making movies, he should stick to shoving wrestlers into humorous starring vehicles. Any self-respecting American would rather watch John Cena play a Rambo pastiche than watch Trey Songz do literally anything other than sing “Can’t Help But Wait.”