A bald, hulking Vince Vaughn is basically playing a pale, doughy Frankenstein in a violent, silly prison movie. This is the latest film by director of the Gore Western Bone Tomahawk, Craig Zahler. Oh yeah, we need to check this out.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
Vince Vaughn is having a bad day, or rather this dull, brutish character is. He gets fired from his job at the auto shop, then because he’s home early he finds his wife is having an affair. Vaughn does what anybody in his position would do: gorilla smashes her car with his superhero level strength. Every car part he throws across his front lawn makes ridiculous Looney Tunes style sound effects. The rearview mirror makes a whistling boomerang effect. He discus-tosses the car hood about 30 feet with a wobbly metal sound.
Then Vaughn delivers an absurd monologue in a dubious Southern accent about reaching into the refrigerator at the 7-11 and always grabbing the skim milk when he’s aiming for the half and half. He figures, one out of three times, he should grab the right bottle of creamer. You know, dude, you could always look where you’re grabbing, or possibly learn where the half and half is kept and pick from that side of the shelf. Of course, this speech clarifies the theme of this movie. At several points, Vaughn could resolve his problems with a well-thought out strategy. But then there’d be no movie. Vaughn delivers this soliloquy to his listless wife, who’s oddly unaffected by being caught red-handed in an affair by a violent Frankenstein-looking dude who just ripped her car apart with his bare hands.
Then they agree to get back together. Jump ahead 18 months, Vaughn becomes a drug delivery person and now they live in a nice house and his wife is pregnant. I have to say, this story moves as stiffly and ungainly as Vince Vaughn does. Vaughn does a really slow drug pick-up in the ocean with two bad hombres. That goes on forever with no drama or tension.
Vaughn decides to dump the bags of drugs right before the cops drive up and bust them. Vaughn just has a sixth sense about these things. He slowly walks up and shoots both of the hombres and gets arrested. Vaughn won’t give up the names of his dealers but he’ll happily shoot his partners. Because he’s sort of a noble Good Guy? Because he’s expecting a child, he’s supposed to be sympathetic to the audience? It’s not clear why we’re supposed to care about his ordeals.
So about an hour in, Vince Vaughn goes to prison, thereby satisfying the basic premise of the movie. But if you’re waiting for the titula Brawl, well, get comfortable. This movie takes its time. I am amused how the movie demurely cuts to a wide shot every time Vaughn is strip-searched. Because this isn’t an Exploitation movie, son. It’s classy.
While in prison, the drug dealers kidnap Vaughn’s pregnant wife in a hilariously silly scene, in retaliation for Vaughn losing their $3.2 million in drugs. Then to raise the stakes further, Udo Keir shows up as reptilian Foreign Guy (the actual credited character name is Placid Man) and threatens to assault the wife’s unborn fetus unless Vaughn murders some dude in a totally different maximum security prison.
So Vaughn assaults a guard that was fairly nice to him and breaks his arm. Then Franken-Vaughn slowly and methodically shakes off nightsticks, pistol whippings, and mace to assault some more guards. In the movie’s twisted logic, this does the job to get him transferred to the correct prison to murder the random dude.
A grizzled Don Johnson is the evil Warden Tuggs of the new prison, because the wardens are always evil in prison movies. In his own words, it’s not a maximum security prison, it’s “a minimum freedom prison.” Don Johnson is so mean, he makes Vaughn call him “sir” and drops his prison outfit in the middle of the parking lot. Oh, and the toilet doesn’t work. Ooh, so EVIL.
The movie has exactly one cute little idea. Vaughn is locked into a shock belt so that every time he misbehaves, a whirring sound comes on and he writhes in pain. Well, not writhes exactly, the taciturn Vaughn grimaces slightly at the sound effects. Because he’s so tough, you see. It’s a cheap, but effective, special effect.
So then Vaughn finds out the drug dealer from the earlier deal gone wrong is in Cell Block 99. He sonic zaps Franken-Vaughn a bit, then beats him. See, this is why you turn on your partners the second the police ask for them. Otherwise, you will be stuck in a hellhole with these scumbags and their finger is on the sonic zapper button.
This being a prison movie, we watch Vaughn suffer some more before the inevitable ultra-violent conclusion. He goes about his business of revenge and murder rather lackadaisically for someone who’s withstood beatings, tortures, and zappings, which dampens the dramatic tension.
Vaughn is basically a Terminator, which sort of lessens the drama and visceral suffering that’s the bread and butter of these movies. I was expecting a prison fighting movie, but this is more lunk-headed and less satisfying. The movie is too slow-moving and dull to recommend as a violent actioner. Just like Bone Tomahawk, this movie is nihilistic, exploitative, ugly, and a smidge racist.
At the very end, Vince Vaughn mudhole stomps the drug dealer into a paste then somehow decapitates him with his feet!?!? So that happens.