There’s little to glean from the shockingly stupid premise behind Bushwick besides that America truly is fucked. Which is also basically the plot of Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott’s alternate universe action thriller—in which (spoiler, I guess) a “confederation” of southern states invade northern cities to help Texas secede from the U.S.—though the doomed state of our union has nothing to do with the directors keying in on some very real and very dangerous divisions amongst our fellow homelanders. Instead, what Bushwick reveals in its ostensibly progressive filmmakers is such a blatantly tone-deaf exploration of conservative values and Trumpian bigotry that if the South actually were able to invade Hollywood, whoever was involved in this movie would probably have it coming.
We meet Lucy (Brittany Snow) as she’s bringing home new boyfriend Jose (Arturo Castro) to meet her family for the first time, doing that thing that all terrible movies do, which is to have a character admit at the last possible moment that she has not yet told her family that she’s bringing home her non-white partner—because why would she hide such crucial information were her family not probably racist?—but none of that matters because the two emerge from the subway into a Brooklyn warzone and Jose immediately dies in an off-screen explosion, introducing Bushwick’s two prominent motifs: an inept grasp of scale, and a pace which demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of basic story construction. There’s also the directors’ insistence on emulating the illusion of the film as one long take (obviously digitally cut together from multiple takes), care of such forebears as Children of Men and Birdman, but just like in Birdman there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to doing so besides pawing at some sort of technical bravado, and just like in Children of Men the effect is immersive, only Alfonso Cuarón is a genius who understands the terror of the worlds he’s immersing the audience within, and Murnion/Milott seem to think that all the POCs in Brooklyn are rapists, gang members or clueless drug addicts.
Once her boyfriend loses most of his skin, Lucy runs haphazardly through the chaos of Bushwick, Lyle Vincent’s camera following unblinkingly in her frenzied wake. After a near-rape at the hands of the aforementioned POCs, she meets massive janitor Stupe (Dave Bautista), who tells her he’s escaping to Hoboken to find his wife and child, who we know almost automatically are probably either A) not dead, or B) not real. Turns out they’re—spoiler—dead, because—spoiler—they were “in” 9/11, because—spoiler—Bushwick is intent on wringing all the capital-“P” Pain out of the American Experience. Stupe, of course, is an ex-soldier, able to kill a bunch of bad guys, generally protect Lucy as she comes to terms with the new nightmare that is New York and inevitably hold hostage an enemy soldier to figure out that the South invaded places like Bushwick because they believed that the snowflake SJWs of the Union would go quietly, what with their dearth of guns and overabundance of safe spaces.
Bushwick tries to play off such a revelation as an indictment of the dumb denizens of Arkansas, Mississippi, Kenyucky, et al., while still expecting the audience to buy that such morons—including the state governments and all citizenry—could pull off a mass military campaign in secret and that every single person in every one of these rebel states in this modern hyper-connected world of ours would be so on-board they’d keep totally quiet and think that the strategy of said campaign—invading the North because the North doesn’t believe in weapons—is sound. Meanwhile, carnage unfolds as boringly as one would expect from such consequence-less character beats and generic war action, all soundtracked by Aesop Rock, who (and this is coming from a big fan) seems to have watched a completely different movie.
The lone beacon of subtlety and warmth here is Dave Bautista, a man I would like to give a long hug. Bautista is able to extract quiet moments of genuine empathy and reflection from the shitshow droning on around him, yanking whatever depth is available from the shallow husk of a character he’s given. With hope, he’ll find his way toward more dramatic material. Snow, in turn, plays a workable foil, panicked without lapsing into a squealing, useless mess, but she’s given even less in Lucy, unceremoniously—spoiler—dispatched in the film’s final moments as the directors bring their movie to the nihilistic end you always knew was coming, not because such an ending was earned but because there was simply no other way to end it. Murnion and Milott are totally justified in their cynicism, but if that’s the only salient message they can convey with this otherwise graceless whiff of an action flick, they might as well have just never made it in the first place. We already know we’re fucked—so now what?
Directors: Cary Murnion, Jonathan Milott
Writers; Nick Damici, Graham Reznick
Starring: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Angelic Zambrana, Arturo Castro, Jeremie Harris
Release Date: August 25, 2017
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.