BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, S. Craig Zahler’s follow-up to 2015’s BONE TOMAHAWK, is a brutal ‘midnight movie’ that skips any notion of being tongue-in-cheek in order to deliver a throwback exploitation flick. While the violence is (at times) gory, what truly sets this apart from recent efforts is a commanding and committed performance by Vince Vaughn.
Vaughn is Bradley (Not ‘Brad’) Thomas, a former boxer-turned-blue collar stiff who gets laid off shortly before discovering that his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) is cheating on him. This low point moment leads Thomas deep into the drug world; and, inevitably, into a shoot-out with the police. And, then, after an hour’s worth of set-up, the film kicks into high gear — and the result is an immensely entertaining action movie.
For the first time since 2001’s lackluster DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE, Vince Vaughn’s hulking, 6′ 5″ frame is on display as a massive threat to all who cross his path. While Dwayne Johnson looks like an action figure capable of pushing a launched torpedo into a new direction, Vaughn has a much more realistic look that grounds the movie by giving us a relatable hero. Following a string a forgettable comedies, this late-career change towards edgier projects is a welcomed surprise from an actor who first made his mark over twenty years ago (!) in SWINGERS.
Much like the aforementioned BONE TOMAHAWK, Zahler’s second film starts off an unassuming genre film before descending straight into Hell. Part thriller, part ‘Grindhouse’, BRAWL makes no apologies for either its sadistic brutality, or the almost-playful nature of its low-budget special effects (which, admittedly, will either add to your enjoyment, or serve as a potentially major distraction). With the second-half introduction of Don Johnson as a mustache-twirling, man-in-black warden, you know exactly where things are heading — and you will, most likely, be grateful.
Above all, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 will leave you wondering how it took so long before someone recognized Vince Vaughn’s potential to play a role like this. Go ahead and add half a beer if you love exploitation films.
Three and a Half out of Five Beers.