When you think of actor Dax Shepard, you might remember him in 'Idiocracy,' 'When in Rome,' 'Baby Mama' or more recently, the TV show 'Parenthood.' He plays comic roles, sometimes as a humorously not-so-bright guy. You don't think "action hero" or "martial-arts star." But in the movie 'Brother's Justice,' co-directed by Shepard and David Palmer, Shepard wants to change that perception. He's ready to be the next Bruce Willis or Jet Li, if only someone will give him the chance.
The movie is shot documentary style, with the cast all playing themselves. Shepard and his old friend, producer Nate Tuck, decide they want to make a movie Dax has thought up called 'Brother's Justice,' an action film in which Dax plays the hero. They approach a number of people to enlist in their project: Dax's agent, producer Andrew Panay ('Wedding Crashers'), director Jon Favreau, and to play the hero's brother, Ashton Kutcher. All of them are skeptical, because Dax is not really action-film leading man material, and because Dax's pitches of the movie range from nonexistent to barely coherent. Dax also approaches Tom Arnold, in one of the funnier scenes of the movie. However, Dax and Nate can't seem to find anyone who really wants to back Dax's great idea ... at least, not with Dax in the lead.
When I heard about this movie, I thought it would be like 'My Name is Bruce,' in which Bruce Campbell plays an actor named Bruce Campbell who encounters evil monsters -- a narrative, fictional story but with a "real" main character. However, 'Brother's Justice' is shot documentary style and, apparently, Shepard and Nate Tuck didn't always let the people they filmed know exactly why they were filming them, except for possibly Tom Arnold. Shepard is playing himself as a little slow and obnoxious and letting himself be the butt of all the humor, but otherwise people are being filmed naturalistically.
Arnold really did go on a TV talk show and tell the host he was working on an action movie with Dax Shepard called 'Brother's Justice.' Shepard's session with the martial-arts expert weren't faked, either -- apparently Shepard cracked a rib during the scene -- and the talk-show appearance where the actor demonstrated his martial-arts skills was not intended to have quite the result it did.
The description of 'Brother's Justice' and how it was shot might remind you a little of Joaquin Phoenix's recent film 'I'm Still Here.' However, Dax Shepard has no thought of deceiving his audience -- he's just having fun. This movie borders on a personal joke -- something he did with his friends for fun. Fortunately, it's funny for a wider audience than Shepard's acquaintances. Most of the movie was shot in 2006, and one source of unintentional humor is that many of the people onscreen in this film are much more well-known now -- Jon Favreau had just started working on 'Iron Man' and was probably better known for 'Zathura' (in which Shepard has a role). The two actors who steal the film almost shamelessly at the end of the movie are extremely familiar faces right now: David Koechner and Bradley Cooper.
The only difficulty with this conceit is that while Shepard is actually playing a colorful character, Tuck is playing it straight, and his "character" is not quite as strong. 'Brother's Justice' relies on situational humor rather than characterization to carry the film, and the results are uneven. Subplots are scarce, and the story drags somewhat in the middle. Fake trailers for other projects Dax wanted to make liven things up a bit, and the ending explodes once Cooper and Koechner become involved. The credits sequence wasn't finished when the movie premiered at Austin Film Festival, but apparently they're hoping to work in a sequence with Seth Green that had been cut from the body of the film.
The over-the-top moments in 'Brother's Justice,' whether they are genuine, faked or downright fictional, provide the best moments in the movie and make it a worthwhile comedy. The close-ups and reality-show vibe might work better on TV than on a big screen, but the comedy is successful in any setting.