Bushwick Is an Alarmingly Timely Thriller With a Shallow Plot

Bushwick Photo: Bullet Pictures

A salute to the camera operator of Bushwick for bringing off a faux-single-take action movie in which his camera isn’t always hugging the actors’ asses. Not only does said operator keep in step with the heroine, Lucy (Brittany Snow), and her burly comrade, Stu (Dave Bautista), as they try to outrun the paramilitary executioners who have invaded the title Brooklyn neighborhood, but he also veers off for wider shots — catching sundry extras as they’re mowed down — and then gets back in step for the next deadly obstacle. Seriously, he must have been in better shape than the leads. They could take breaks but he was always shooting.

It’s kinder to approach Bushwick as a tremendous logistical feat rather than a work of imagination. I live in a neighborhood where a lot of companies shoot movies and see how the location people and P.A.’s have to move cars and corral passersby and deal with pissed-off residents like me. It’s a miracle I gave Bridge of Spies a good review given what those assholes put me through. I doubt the makers of Bushwick had more than a fraction of the resources of Spielberg’s crew, but they were still able to depopulate the streets and conjure up a sense of a neighborhood in extremis.

Crafting the story evidently took less work. In the first scene, Lucy and her boyfriend get off the subway in Bushwick to visit her grandma and are puzzled when there’s no one around. A minute later and her boyfriend is a pile of smoking flesh — which didn’t faze Lucy as much as it should have, I thought. Maybe she was going to break up with the poor guy anyway. Or maybe Snow was rationing her hysteria, saving her big sobs for later in the movie. She has a more intense relationship, as you’d expect, with Stu, a janitor with a traumatic past who saves her from a couple of rapist-murderers. Bautista is the big, bald muscleman from Guardians of the Galaxy, here with facial hair. He’s a good man to have in a crisis, either beating in people’s heads or doing surgery under less-than-ideal conditions. He has an excellent scene in which he cauterizes his own leg wound and another when he sews up Lucy’s hand after her finger is shot off. But his long, tragic monologue in a laundromat that invokes 9/11 and the carnage of war overseas doesn’t quite come off. I missed his baldness, musculature, and Groot.

The movie, directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, is alarmingly timely. The real threat, it says, is from within, from white men in states like Texas and the Carolinas who view multiculturalism as the enemy — and laughably underestimate the number of illegal weapons in blue-state urban areas. They thought they could take Bushwick that easily? Really? Casting a black hero or heroine might have made the racial dimension of the conflict more vivid. Instead, the black characters in Bushwick have fat stashes of weaponry and itchy trigger fingers and are almost as much of a threat to the protagonists as the white supremacists. (For some reason, Lucy is given a Hispanic sister who does bong hits and sticks her crotch in Stu’s face.) It’s an odd lapse.

Murnion and Milott are working in the tradition of George Romero’s The Crazies and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, with a little of The War of the Worlds for good measure. (The impotence of the Church is a subtheme.) But as I’ve said, the logistics interested me more than the shallow plot. Bushwick is actually an amazing template for the kind of virtual-reality entertainment that I bet will be common in a decade or two. You won’t just be looking through the camera operator’s lens. You’ll be running along and shooting and ducking debris and watching buddies of yours get virtually blown to bits. At least I hope that’s how we’ll play out this scenario in the future. Too many more Charlottesvilles and we might have to start making friends with people who look like Dave Bautista.

Bushwick Is Alarmingly Timely But Has a Shallow Plot