Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Bravetown is hopelessly derivative and narratively flat, with a general feeling that the filmmakers borrowed elements from every other starting-over-my-life drama ever made. Centering on a young DJ who overdoses on drugs and decides to reform his life by living with his father, the film attempts to modernize an overly familiar, relatively ancient story by showcasing how much the youngin’s like the new music. Alas, the film attempts to utilize well-established actors but never finds a sense of self or reformed message. Rather, it weaves together jingoistic ideas about the military and paints everything as one-dimensional, including the supposedly exciting dance competition at the heart of the film’s plot. That’s right, this movie has dance scenes that feel straight out of Step Up. They’re admittedly entertaining, but only carry the horizontal narrative so far. Daniel Duran’s directorial debut is visually compelling, showing his potential behind the camera, but the script carries a stench of repetition that never lets up.
The film focuses on Josh (Lucas Till), a boy raised in a troubled home by an alcoholic mother (Maria Bello). He works as a DJ at night, indulging in ecstasy and other illicit drugs when given the chance. After an overdose puts him in the hospital, his mother sends him off to live in a rural town with his father. He’s also sent to a psychiatrist, Alex (Josh Duhamel), that is supposed to help him get through his drug addiction but all they end up doing is watching soccer and eating pizza. Alex, like many in the town, used to fight in the military, and their town prides itself (as we realize very late in the film, mind you) on military pride and honor. Josh meets Kerry (Katrina Norman), a dancer at his new high school that can never seem to choose the appropriate music for their admittedly strong dancing talents. Sure enough, Josh is a DJ, so he can make them some sick beats to help win a very important competition. If this seems like a subplot that does not really pertain to the overarching story, you’d be correct. Nonetheless, a romance builds between the two while Kerry’s mother (Laura Dern) cannot get over her son’s death while serving his country.
It’s a wonder how a film with this level of talent can be so dramatically boring. While it contains marketable stars, talented women like Dern and Bello are subjected to thankless, nagging maternal roles that feel like the most conventional trappings for middle-aged women in the film industry. It’s troubling how consistently inept female roles can be in these dramas centered on teenage boys. Till, in the lead role, mostly looks depressed about his character’s decisions and angsty regarding his parents’ divorce. The dialogue he’s given doesn’t bode well either, with a particular scene feeling like nails on a chalkboard. The two love interests talk and then, out of nowhere, she starts to bother him about why he doesn’t talk to his dad, and the conversation has the intelligence of a dog running around in a circle going after its tail. Bravetown simply wastes its talents on the off-chance that it will connect with military families dealing with the loss of a loved one. That’s a commendable story considering its dramatic implications, yet the narrative should be less pandering and one-dimensional. It’s one of the many frustrating misfires in the film, a true slog with a cloud of pretension hanging over its proceedings.
Grade: ★½ (out of 5)