Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 4, 2018)
Now best-known as Aquaman from the Justice League franchise, Jason Momoa takes the lead all by himself for 2018’s direct-to-video adventure Braven. Joe Braven (Momoa) and his father Linden (Stephen Lang) go away for a quiet weekend at their cabin in the woods.
When they arrive, they discover that drug traffickers hid heroin in their building. Before long, the baddies arrive at the cabin to retrieve their goods, an event that pits Joe against them in a life-or-death circumstance.
No one will call that an original plot, as plenty of movies offer similar stories. Throw a rock at Netflix and you’ll find a slew of films that follow narratives in the same vein.
As I often say, however, a movie doesn’t need to be fresh and creative to be good. While a story as well-worn as Braven’s needs to find some way to differentiate itself from the pack, if executed in a satisfying manner, it can still entertain.
I guess I should give Braven credit for its vague stabs at character depth, mainly in the way it depicts Linden. We find him in the throes of dementia, an arc that seems unusual for this sort of tale.
That said, I can’t claim the choice feels especially organic, as Linden’s mental concerns act more as a plot device than anything else. Linden’s status gives Joe an excuse to get him alone in the woods and it also allows for character vulnerabilities that otherwise might not arise.
In theory, at least – in reality, Linden’s mental status serves as just one of many contrivances, none of which seem natural or real. Braven lacks a true plot beyond it being Die Hard In a Cabin, but the film piles on narrative notions meant to make us think we get something more substantial.
We don’t. Braven exists as a basic piece of violent action without any greater depth than that.
If the film pulled off that violent action in a satisfying manner, I wouldn’t mind, but it tends to lack real thrills. A few set pieces seem reasonably vivid, but most of the movie plods along without real drama or momentum.
The actors fail to add much to the proceedings. In a movie geek way, it’s fun to see Lang and Momoa as father and son because they played enemies in 2011’s Conan the Barbarian reboot, but they don’t connect in a meaningful manner.
Granted, neither seems bad, but both offer greater talent than they display here. Momoa came as a pleasant surprise in Justice League, as his Aquaman delivered a lively presence, but he fails to replicate much charisma or depth here.
When we first meet Garret Dillahunt as the psychopathic drug kingpin Kassen, he threatens to enliven the proceedings. Alas, this proves to be a mirage, as Kassen soon loses all forms of vivacity and turns into just another dollar store baddie.
The same goes for Braven as a whole. You can do much worse in terms of basic action entertainment, but that stands as a lackluster endorsement for a forgettable movie.