Will Canon's Brotherhood started life as an 8-minute NYU short. Now it's a 79-minute theatrical release. What's been added is speed; what's still missing is character, theme and anything else that would add up to more than empty calories. This is bad news for Brotherhood, an occasionally intense, ultimately disposable exercise in escalating complications. It could be very good news for Canon, whose ability to keep pedal-to-metal is impressive considering his budgetary and logistical limitations. The story, about a fraternity hazing gone horribly wrong, is a canny one to tackle if you're trying to convince the suits you can crank out soulless, one-note, character deficient action thrillers. (Don't knock it. It pays well.) Convincing anyone other than college kids to spend money on it is a different proposition. Targeted marketing should get a small slice of the beer and bong crowd to hunker down on stained, shredded, frat house couches and watch it on VOD. They'll get a kick out of the setting and then forget the whole thing when it's over.
A shallow movie works best when it involves shallow people. Fraternities exist to cultivate blind loyalty in nervous young men desperate to fit into new and strange surroundings. Adam (Trevor Morgan) and Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) are lowly pledges sitting in a van outside a Dallas suburb. They're being egged on by frat leader Frank (Jon Foster, brother of Ben) to each rob a convenience store as their initiation to Sigma Zeta Chi. Frank's masculinity-questioning, drill sergeant taunts push Kevin to make the attempt during which he gets shot by Mike (Arlen Escarpeta), the store's African-American cashier. Instead of taking Kevin to the hospital, Frank insists they return to the frat house lest the police learn of their activities. This is a big mistake, because whether it's Bill Clinton denying he had "sex with that woman" Monica Lewinsky or frat kids trying to hide the result of a botched hazing, it's better to tell the truth immediately than attempt a cover up. But then Canon couldn't get to the point, the introduction of obstacles piled one atop the other until the evening spirals furiously out of control. Canon presents each complication as a bomb drop, which only heightens their artificiality and tests our tolerance for mechanized plot twists. After dropping Kevin off at the house, Adam and his racist buddy Graham (Luke Sexton) return to the store to convince Mike to surrender its surveillance tape. Then, afraid Mike will not stick to the agreed version of events, the pair forcibly steals him away into the frat house basement. Then Adam blackmails Mike into cooperating by threatening to reveal a high school incident of sexual assault. Then...well, you get the idea. On it goes, under-thought and over-cranked. It's like watching After Hours merged with Animal House, except no one has any awareness of how ridiculous the evening has become (someone page Bill Paxton's character from Aliens).
Since volume and tempo are the priorities, Canon sends all the actors in the same direction. Some arguments are just overlong shouting matches that should have been trimmed and the dialogue is a functional mélange of F-bombs and next-twist-announcing. Where Brotherhood makes headway is in the shifts of power and leverage between Frank and Adam. As the frat's alpha male, Frank's authority is absolute until something doesn't go his way, giving Adam an opening to convince the group to take Kevin to the hospital. Adam's role as the conscience of the piece doesn't take away from the film's dim view of fraternities. The only black character gets within an inch of being treated like the cop in Reservoir Dogs and a party prank involving an overweight co-ed is particularly cruel. None of this, it should be noted, feeds any trenchant insights. Canon simply found the best environment to tell a fast paced story targeted at an undiscriminating audience. To claim he's trying to advance his theories on masculinity, the male power structure or the pack mentality is to give him too much credit. Brotherhood moves fast, but it can't outrun its superficiality.
Distributor: Phase 4 Films
Cast: Trevor Morgan, Jon Foster, Lou Taylor Pucci and Arlen Escarpeta
Director: Will Canon
Screenwriters: Will Canon, Doug Simon
Producers: Jason Croft, Steve Hein, Tim O'Hair and Chris Pollack
Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, some violence and sexual content
Running time: 79 min
Release date: February 18 Dallas, February 25 LA