Sometimes I worry that I’m losing my sense of humor. I’ve looked everywhere: my pockets, my great grandfather’s World War I uniform, inside a corn muffin… In fact, the only place I know for sure doesn’t have it is Brother’s Justice, the new film directed by David Palmer and Punk’d’s Dax Shepard. Shepard also wrote the script for the movie, a mockumentary about the actor’s failed attempts to retire from comedy and start a new career as a martial arts star. I like Shepard, who made a great first impression on me in the underrated family flick Zathura and later managed to be the best thing in some truly awful movies, like last year’s deplorable When in Rome. It becomes clear early into watching Brother’s Justice that this simply unfunny movie is going to have to coast on Shepard’s significant charms, which could have worked if he didn’t choose to depict himself as a jerk.
Shepard has a “great” idea for a movie called Brother’s Justice, which has a story so incredible that he doesn’t want to tell anybody what it is. He wants them to be able to just see and enjoy the film when it’s done. That’s supposed to be a funny joke because obviously he can’t get the movie made if nobody knows enough about it to decide if they want to invest. Eventually he begrudgingly reveals that it’s about two brothers who run afoul of a biker gang and eventually need to fight their way down a mountain. Shepard wants it to be a serious martial arts movie – you know, like The Octagon – but he has no martial arts experience. When his ‘hilariously’ abused producing partner Nate Tuck (playing himself) suggests that Shepard actually learn some, it results in a Jiu Jitsu demonstration that devolves into an awkward scene of gay panic when Shepard realizes how much grappling is involved.
The obvious appeal of the story is that two hapless underdogs are struggling against all odds – ironically very reasonable odds – to make their dream come true… but the joke is that Shepard in particular doesn’t actually deserve the chance to do it. He’s completely clueless about the entertainment industry, which contradicts the film’s depictions of his affluent lifestyle, something that clearly implies a modicum of competence at his job. What’s more, movie star Shepard seems largely dependent on the financial contributions of Tuck, who has an ambiguously large source of income for a guy who managed a Kinkos before turning to producing. A recurring joke finds Shepard using Tuck's commitment to financing 25% of the production for personal gain, like installing a new personal gym in which to train for Brother’s Justice. There’s obviously an attempt to codify their comedic relationship as one between an incompetent but charismatic individual and his competent but weak-willed subordinate, which might have been effective if the filmmakers didn’t seem so intent on making Shepard socially awkward and so blasé about depicting Tuck as anything other than a cipher.
Celebrity cameos abound, from Jon Favreau to Ashton Kutcher to Tom Arnold to Bradley Cooper, and while some of them lend real charm to the production a lot of them give off the impression that they’re doing the film as favor. That may or may not actually be the case, but they certainly don’t seem terribly invested in the material. It’s easy to understand why. There are certain movies where you can count the laughs on one hand. In Brother’s Justice I could count them on one ‘one.’ There’s an amusing bit in which Shepard and Tuck make a trailer for a serious Texas oil drama that devolves into a poorly motivated revenge drama, and then into softcore pornography. That was cute. And the final bit of the film – which actually finds the actor making at least a small part of Brother’s Justice – offers a glimpse of a mildly entertaining movie that could have been. Shooting a bad low-budget action movie with obviously miscast comedians has serious comedic potential, which is undermined by the familiar and frankly uninspired Hollywood back lot satire they made instead.
It’s tempting to say that fans of Dax Shepard will find more solace in Brother’s Justice than anybody else, but I don’t think they’ll find the actor terribly charming in this little vanity project. It’s the kind of comedy that sounds better on paper. Alas, they filmed it instead. There’s a general consensus in Hollywood that industry satires never work. Unfortunately, Brother’s Justice does nothing to dispute that claim.
Crave Online Rating: 2.5/10