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Broken
Reviewed by Martin Thomas, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Alex Ferrari
Genre:   Action/Suspense
Review Date:   September 07, 2005
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

What if YOU were J.J. Abrams?

After many years of pressing your nose to the grindstone and paying your dues, you finally get your baby, Alias, on network television . . . and it’s a huge success! It’s maybe the greatest spy series since The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and it turns your leading lady into a tabloid-selling household name. Suddenly you’re being sought for everything from developing new series to writing comic books and screenplays. Life couldn’t be sweeter.

Then the other shoe drops. . . .

Your leading lady gets pregnant.

OK, now what?

Let’s face it: The biggest draw for that show was watching her in sexy outfits performing death-defying stunts. That’s all out, now. You could try suing her for breach of contract, but that won’t fix the problem and likely will get you a lot of bad press.

Think!

Think. . . .

Hmmn. . . . There is always the option of going the Law & Order/CSI route and spawning several spin-offs to capitalize on the franchise you’ve already built up. Me, I’d do a series that’d focus on the early career of secret agent Dixon, but the first one out of the gate would have to be a series with a female protagonist (that is, after all, your bread and butter), but with a twist. She might not even be an agent herself. . . .

If the above scenario were true and you were looking for new Alias-like projects, one of the proposals that might cross your desk would be Broken.

The action/thriller Broken opens with a young every-woman, Bonnie, waking up in the middle of night to home invaders who beat her, kidnap her and drag her to the abandoned basement of a hospital where she is no doubt to be killed, if not first tortured. The only thing halting the motley band of criminals/mercenaries/rogue agents/whatever-they-are from carrying out their business is that they aren’t sure if she’s the correct target — in as much as she has no idea who they are or why any of this is happening! And while this makes her death no less imminent, her one hope is the black-clad figure crouching in the shadows waiting to rescue her. By the end, we’re left with an even bigger question: Is any of this even real or just a delusion?

The film is directed by Alex Ferarri , whose previous experience is all in post-production. Here he does manage some moments of good storytelling, camera work and special effects. In fact, the film’s biggest boasts are its 100 FX shots and that fact that its budget was only $8,000, for which it has received mountains of praise in the indie press.

Pretty impressive, huh?

Mmm . . . no, not really.

First off, even though Broken bills itself as a short film it really isn’t. At a running time of roughly 15 minutes, Broken is not much more than an extended trailer. (The actual “Trailer” on the disk is just a teaser composed of quick cuts.)

But it’s not simply the length that’s the problem here. If you remember, Troops was pretty short too, but it delivered two very complete, hilarious and memorable episodes in the same amount of time. And more recently there was Grayson, which claimed to be “trailer” but by the end became a fever-pitch of one exciting concept after the next.

Broken, on the other hand, gives you only a small sliver of a story, and one so unoriginal that you aren’t left with any burning desire to find out how it turns out. In fact, you could probably write it yourself.

Of course, every indie film (with the exception of maybe Clerks) is made or broken by the caliber of its actors. The acting in Broken ranges between competent and hackneyed. Even the non-speaking actors are too well manicured to be the hardened badasses the costumer tries to convince us they are.

Even though Bonnie is the lead character, the lead actor here is Paul Gordon, who plays Duncan, the leader of the gang. Duncan is the perfunctorily glib yet flamboyant and refined psycho who delivers monologues to the captured hero and fires his henchmen for the most minor of infractions — by killing them (how word of these firing practices doesn’t leak to the henchman community, I’ll never know). It’s the kind of role that Kevin Spacey makes look so easy, which obviously it ain’t. Something Paul Gordon must’ve realized as he took long, William Shatner-ish dramatic pauses between each line of dialogue.

As for the effects . . . some of them are pretty good, but most look like exactly what they are: products of a digital FX package. Thing is, I do appreciate that not just any chimp can get on the computer and make that work. It takes a lot of skill and experience to pull off what these guys did. And despite some bits of overdoing it (namely all the sparking bullet ricochets) it’s mostly very impressive. Just like it’s supposed to be. Because, despite whatever initial intentions, Broken is a just a portfolio piece/calling card for an FX crew — or possibly an invitation to investors to throw in on a full-length feature. Let’s just call it what it is.

Broken has all the action sensibilities of a video game mixed with the look and feel of the movie Saw. And lest you think I mean that as a compliment, I assure you I do not. I attended the South By Southwest premiere of Saw here in Austin, Texas, and by the time it was done the entire Paramount Theater was howling with laughter.

Broken I didn’t find at all laughable, just unimpressive.

Oh, and as far as being impressed by the $8,000 budget. . .

Several full features are produced for that or less. For perspective: El Mariachi (by Alex Ferrari’s hero Robert Rodriguez) was made for only $7,000. And before you claim that as being “1992 money”, you should know that just last year Primer (90 minutes long, y’all!) was made for the same amount.

Bragging about your budget — or lack thereof — is passé. The only people still impressed by it are those who haven’t made a film . . . yet.

These days it’s all about making something memorable that generates a buzz. If you can’t make something amazing, by God, make something original! Unfortunately, Broken, as good as some elements of it are, does neither.

Well, there’s no need to play "What if . . . ", anyway. J.J. Abrams has already developed Lost, an even more successful series, and Jennifer Garner will be returning to Alias with her pregnancy written into the storyline.

Truth is, Broken plays more like a movie that’s made to go straight to the Sci-Fi channel. I read that they are currently working on a full feature, so maybe you’ll see it there soon.

RevSF contributor Martin Thomas was made for a budget of 800 dollars. Two bucks for the turkey baster, and $798 for the Pabst Blue Ribbon during the first trimester.

 
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