Eppler: Vaughn goes to dark places in "Brawl"

Eppler: Vaughn goes to dark places in "Brawl"

Vince Vaughn is starring in a good movie. That's something I haven't been able to say in a long time. Seriously, I was sifting through the garbage pile of his career over the last decade or so, and I think the last good one was "Wedding Crashers" in 2005. I think the guy finally got tired of himself, which is why he's trying some new things. He was the lone Skittle in the bleak candy corn jar that was "True Detective" Season 2, and now he's going even darker for "Brawl in Cell Block 99."

Vaughn is bulked up and tatted out as a drug runner supporting a pregnant wife, played by Jennifer Carpenter from "Dexter." When he gets busted and locked up, a drug lord on the outside threatens to kill his wife unless he snuffs someone on the inside. But the inmate he has to kill is in a maximum security lockup, so he has to cause a lot of trouble to get there.

"Brawl in Cell Block 99" is a throwback to the kind of movies they just don't make anymore - the exploitation and grindhouse flicks of the 70s with their ultra-violence, funk-music soundtracks and leaning into racial and cultural stereotypes.

It's written and directed by S. Craig Zahler who made a cool horror western with Kurt Russell called "Bone Tomahawk." "Brawl" manages to be even more gruesomely violent than that film - which is saying something. I like how the action scenes are minimally edited - usually viewed in long static shots without lots of quick cuts so we can actually see what's happening.

Vaughn is clearly having a blast with this brooding tough guy act, but still gets to rattle off one-liners so it still feels like a Vince Vaughn performance. I also enjoyed Don Johnson as a cigar-chomping warden just itching to have to kill his inmates. 

"Brawl in Cell Block 99" is brutal bone-cruncher of an action movie - darkly funny and self-aware.

It's now available on Video on Demand. 

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