(2010)3Mark DemingHey, if Joaquin Phoenix can become a hip-hop star, why can't Dax Shepard be the next Chuck Norris? That's not exactly the premise of Shepard's new film, Brother's Justice, but like I'm Still Here, in which Phoenix left America wondering if he was really reinventing himself as a rapper, losing his mind, or simply pulling our collective leg (answer: mostly option three), Brother's Justice is a mock documentary built around the notion of an actor of note deciding to radically change his public image...and not doing so well with it.
Brother's Justice begins with Dax Shepard -- most easily recognized as a regular on the television series Parenthood; for his roles in Baby Mama, Employee of the Month, and Let's Go to Prison; and for his place in pop-culture history as the guy who says, "Go away! 'Batin'!" in Idiocracy -- calling his pal Nate Tuck, an independent movie producer, and asking him to come over so they can talk over a new project. It seems Dax is tired of being a comic actor, and he wants to reinvent himself as an action star. He's come up with what he's convinced is a can't-miss idea for a picture, an action epic called "Brother's Justice," in which he plays a hero with top-shelf martial-arts skills who must rescue his brother from a gang of meth-dealing bikers. Nate throws his genuine if slightly wary support behind the project, but during their initial meetings with agents, lawyers, and producers, Dax is hesitant to discuss the film's actual story, since that would mean those people would be less likely to buy tickets to see the finished film. Dax and Nate try attaching some top-name talent to the project, yet their pals Ashton Kutcher and Jon Favreau are hesitant to commit, and when they ask Tom Arnold if he can offer some advice and perhaps interest James Cameron in directing, Tom immediately assumes he's playing one of the leading roles, and there's no persuading him otherwise. Hoping that revising the public's opinion of him will help sell the project, Dax makes a few television appearances promoting himself as an action star, but he ends up banned from the Teen Choice Awards, and a demonstration of board-busting skills on Carson Daly's talk show is little short of disastrous. Finally, Dax gives Nate permission to see if he can pitch the project with other actors, and he's furious when he learns it gets a speedy green light with Bradley Cooper and David Koechner in the leads.
Brother's Justice is shot and edited in the style of a documentary, though Dax Shepard, Nate Tuck, and David Palmer (who co-directed with Shepard) don't go out of their way to make any of what happens seem plausible, and the film quickly announces itself as a good-natured farce with Shepard as the butt of the joke. Most of the time, the movie feels like a Saturday Night Live digital short that grew to 75 minutes in length, and while that's fast for a feature film, it's just a bit long for what we get here. Shepard is a gifted comic actor and he plays his own arrogant cluelessness very well indeed, but it's also the only note in his character's repertoire, and by the midway point it gets tiring wondering just how this man will humiliate himself next (though the addition of his curious sexual preoccupations adds an amusing twist). Tuck turns out to be a good straight man for Shepard, yet he doesn't get much to do besides reacting to his folly, and it might have helped if the character had been a bit more proactive. The big surprise in Brother's Justice is Tom Arnold, whose manic, ego-riddled character is one of the funniest things in the movie, even more delusional than Shepard about his talent and his importance to the project. On the other end of the scale, Ashton Kutcher's cameo confirms that improv comedy is not his strong suit, assuming he actually knew this was supposed to be funny. The phony trailers for Shepard's proposed projects run hot and cold (but the one that closes out the movie is a foul-mouthed hoot), and for every bit in Brother's Justice that's laugh-out-loud funny, there's another that generates a polite chuckle and no more. There's enough that's effective in Brother's Justice that one hopes Dax Shepard will try writing and directing a feature again in the future, but it wouldn't hurt if he spent more time on the script and created a more fully developed character before diving in again; as it is, this movie seems like a private joke that developed a life of its own, and with the talent on board it really should have been better.
Parenthood star Dax Shepard makes his feature directorial debut with this mockumentary-style showbiz satire that finds the sitcom player abandoning his comedy career to become a committed martial artist. Together with his producer Nate Tuck and their friend Tom Arnold, Dax begins drafting a screenplay for an ambitious large-scale action epic. Trouble is, none of the big studios will go near the project, and Dax's martial arts skills are mediocre at best. Now the harder that Dax fights to get a green light on his dream production, the faster his career skids into a tailspin. Brother's Justice features special appearances by Bradley Cooper, Jon Favreau, Ashton Kutcher, and David Koechner.