There was a time executing a movie in long single-takes was but a beautiful directing dream. Hitchcock made a thriller in that style in the 1950s, but those “hidden edits” aged quickly. The move from film reels to digital data cards made more ambitious single-take filmmaking possible, and there have even been a few great ones. However, despite all the technical daring-do, that trick is old hat now. If you’re going to make one, it had better have a good story worth the effort. The extended show-off shenanigans in ‘Bushwick’ sadly aren’t enough to elevate the movie’s lame screenplay.
On the plus side, things start well. Co-directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott open their story on a cute couple walking through a subway up to their hipster Brooklyn neighborhood only to find that it’s been turned into a war zone. That quickly breaks up the pair and leaves Lucy (Brittany Snow) stumbling around the madness struggling to survive. Fortunately, she quickly bumps into action star Dave Bautista playing a war veteran named Stupe, so she’s at least got some protection and a love/hate action flick buddy friendship to build. Nevertheless, bad things keep happenin’ to our lovable duo. The reason for the madness? Texas has decided to secede from the Union, and this somehow involves taking over New York City as a base of operations in the East and as a negotiation tool. You see, ‘cuz America is divided and stuff. This movie is political, people!
Despite a few seams showing in the low budget production, ‘Bushwick’ is an impressive technical accomplishment. Steadicams barrel down crumbling streets and slide through explosive war zones with careful precision and cleverly hidden edits. It can’t have been easy to pull off. The filmmakers deserve to be applauded for making a real-time action flick executed in long takes with only a fraction of the resources of a summer tentpole. That proves to be exciting for the first faux single-take that lasts about 30 minutes. After that, it’s increasingly difficult to buy into the film’s fantasy no matter how many impressively staged sequences the filmmakers cram into their B-movie ‘Children of Men’ wannabe. What made that film so impressive and enduring wasn’t just the show off filmmaking, but the searing social commentary that somehow feels even more relevant today, as well as all the intriguing characters. ‘Bushwick’ lacks those qualities even though it strives for them.
The “America divided” commentary that the movie’s script stumbles through feels embarrassingly cartoonish, particularly in light of all of the actual insanity that has occurred in the country since this cinematic stunt was produced. It’s really no more insightful than a ‘Purge’ movie, but infinitely more preachy and self-congratulatory. Brittany Snow’s journey from whiny college student to action heroine is impossible to buy in a real-time 90-minute odyssey, and while Dave Bautista has a legitimate action star presence, he’s stuck delivering series of grunts and weepy monologues that don’t do his talents any justice. Everyone else is either a stock genre movie type or racial stereotype. The drama is constantly undermined by weak characters and predictable storytelling. There’s no suspense beyond wondering when the latest steadicam take will end, and no themes that resonate given how clumsily they’re communicated.
‘Bushwick’ is ultimately a feature-length talent reel for its directors and crew, an impressive filmmaking stunt unworthy of the half-baked script that it brought to life. The movie has some fantastic sequences and clever moments, but it’s almost impossible to care about the characters or story. It’s more of an impressive trick for film fans and makers to admire on a technical level while struggling to ignore everything else. For those who enjoy action movie craft and choreography, the movie is worth a look just to admire the directorial dick-swinging. For anyone hoping to be engaged emotionally or intellectually between all the showing off, ‘Bushwick’ is a disappointment.