Movie Review: Urban warfare comes to Brooklyn in “Bushwick”

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In “Casablanca,” the arrogant German Major Strasser taunts the neutral American ex-patriate Rick how he’ll feel when German troops parade down the streets of this city or that one, and finishes his quiz with New York.

“Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

Thus we come to “Bushwick,” a house-by-house urban combat thriller about an invasion of Brooklyn.

We’ve been so removed from any threat of enemy occupation for so long that typically such warfare fantasies involve the zombie apocalypse. Not here.

A young couple (Brittany Snow, Arturo Castro) get off the subway and suddenly notice how empty it is.

“Where did they go?”

Then a guy, on fire, tumbles down the platform stairs. They poke their heads out the entrance into mayhem — black helicopters, black-uniformed commandos engaged in a full-on shootout with the drive-by shooting locals.

It’s InfoWars’ wettest dream, a confusing “us” vs. an unknown “them,” with “us” not exactly coalescing into an organized opposition. The boyfriend is killed, the blonde “home from college” is nabbed by hood rats who challenge her right to be there with a “Think you’re BETTER than us?”

And then a “janitor” with what “Taken” taught us are “particular skills” rescues her, and the quest is on — a house by house, street by street effort to escape a war zone — Aleppo in the Boroughs, Mosul across the river from Manhattan.

“Take it one block at a time,” Janitor Stupe (Dave Bautista) mutters, and so they do.

Co-directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, working from a Nick Damici/ Graham Reznick script, drag us through a school, apartments, laundromat and church caught up in a sudden conflagration. The randomness of warfare visited upon a civilian population stands out — five people dash across a street, three don’t make it, duck all the way through this block, forget to duck on the next one, you’re done. 

Nobody has any information, although there is electricity and you’d think SOMEbody would have gotten a cell alert or picked up a newscast. This is the first big hole in the logic, here. Another is the film’s strained effort to hide the ID of the attackers. Hint, no, this isn’t “Red Dawn.” That happened last Nov. 8. 

The violence is visited upon the non-violent, Lucy (Snow), who must either adapt or die. The man of violence Stupe, has to demonstrate a little self-surgery (Ever seen a wound cauterized?) and great skill with a pistol.

And then there’s the New York that cafe owner Rick Blaine was talking about back in “Casablanca.” A diverse, armed and irritable population that has seen the movie or youtube video and knows how to make a Molotov cocktail, that has experienced the best way to hit and run with a foe is by drive-by, that knows its turf.

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“Bushwick” doesn’t really work as a political parable, and doesn’t stand up to too much thinking over at all. It shortchanges characters and would have been far better served making more of a statement with folks who were actually local — “diversity” would be a bonus. ]

I mean, when the Hassid attack the attackers as if they’re defending their kibbutz, THAT’s your movie.

It could have been a polarized America take on “Attack the Block,” with over-matched locals — gang members or whoever — battling a well-equipped (no heavy weapons, though) drawling foe. It could have been darkly funny, in addition to violent.

But they needed Snow (“Pitch Perfect”) and Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) to get financing, and that limited everything the filmmakers wanted to do, from the situations and nature of the quest, to their muted satiric horizons.

As is it, “Bushwick” never rises above bush league, more a missed opportunity than a wickedly on-target winner.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista

Credits:Directed by Cary MurnionJonathan Milott , script by Nick DamiciGraham Reznick. An RLJ Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:34

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