I remember the first time I saw Joe Carnahan’s “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane.” It was pretty impressive; Carnahan was able to take Tarantino’s patented, studio-approved post-noir action film template and make it work for a low-budget, small-scale independent film without losing any of the pyrotechnics that made its predecessors so remarkable. Just as Tarantino most certainly inspired Carnahan, Chad Meisenheimer, the writer and director of “Broke”, was brought up on a steady diet of Carnahan, Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, all of whose influences are clearly evident in this young filmmaker’s work. Unfortunately, this is probably the only time someone will ever mention all four of these filmmakers in a sentence. For the time being, at least.
Though “Broke” fails to create believable characters that go beyond mere stereotypes, and the dialogue is clunky and clichéd (including at least two inexcusable uses of the n-word that are clearly nods to Tarantino, but without any of the contextualizing elements he employs to soften the blow), it does provide a few glimmers of hope. Namely, the action sequences are well staged and the cinematography (by Jason Knight) creates a glossy milieu in which the gangsters do their dirty work. Oh, and the opening title sequence is pretty good, too.
“Broke” leaves a lot to be desired as far as storytelling goes, but shows some promise in the film craft department. I imagine the team will make another short in the near future, and they should, because it will only improve their game. But before they try their hand at a feature, they should spend some time thinking about what makes a strong character and how to make those characters talk like real people. And creating an interesting conflict will also help (Note to director: gunplay can only get you so far). By putting more thought into the building blocks of story, Meisenheimer will eventually make a movie that is as engrossing as it is visually interesting. Unfortunately, “Broke” isn’t it.