Battle of the Blah: O’Nan’s Debut Stale Quirk
Actor Ryan O’Nan makes his screenwriting and feature directorial debut with Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, which, try as it might, never manages to get beyond a middling mentality. O’Nan and several co-stars do manage to squeeze some charm into the struggling picture, but are too often bogged down by a weak scenario, one we’ve seen so many times before that quirky charm isn’t enough to fuel it along or necessitate its existence. And according to one’s tastes, the original music for the film isn’t half bad, but unfortunately, steals the show.
After getting kicked out of another band, this time by Kyle (Jason Ritter, who prefers to write songs about monsters), for having songs that are too “sad” and serious, Alex (Ryan O’Nan) meets further injustice during a “gig” playing for handicapped children. His lyrics cause one of the children to stab him with a fake knife while he croons at them about death dressed as a pink moose. Furthermore, this is all compounded by a recent breakup and his completely irresponsible choice to take this “gig” and get fired from his vague office job by boss, Jack (Christopher McDonald). But just when life seems to be nothing but a shit sandwich, along comes Jim (Michael Weston), a sort of idiot savant, who has been stalking Alex since he saw him in a show with Kyle. Hearing Alex was kicked out of his band, Jim decides to get Alex to travel from the East coast to California, playing gigs along the way. Jim, whose musical instruments can all be purchased at Toys-R-Us, somehow convinces Alex, and the two drive off, eventually picking up a punkie groupie named Cassidy (Arielle Kebbel), who describes Alex’s lyrics as something Bowie would’ve written when he was six. Another observer describes them as “The Shins meets Sesame Street.” Of course, a romantic engagement develops between Cassidy and Alex and a minor tiff with Jim sends Alex for support from his conservative older brother (Andrew McCarthy).
A lot of people might owe O’Nan favors (or vice versa), with an astounding amount of well known cameos, from Wilmer Valderrama, Christopher McDonald, Jason Ritter, and Melissa Leo all popping up for a sequence. And not to mention Andrew McCarthy in a slightly larger role as the older, Fundamentalist Christian brother to our protagonist. But all the stars in a clear lit sky would fail to elevate the proceedings above the mediocre mark. There’s a lot going on outside the lens that O’Nan won’t show us, including two violent episodes that get referenced and described repeatedly (like Alex punching a handicapped child repeatedly or choking a co-worker). But worse, there’s plenty of scenes where the dialogue feels stale, rehearsed, and over thought, with some lines falling so flat one expects to hear a laugh track rushed in. The film continually paints characters in extremes, such as the juxtaposition of Alex and his Christian brother, a man who won’t even allow the word ‘homosexual’ to be uttered in front of his child, or how one is either purely corporate or so creative they can’t retain steady employment. Add to that a mountain of clichés (a real estate is like chess speech; dopey frat boys of Theta Beta Potata) and you won’t realize how long you’ve been cringing until you get to the next song. On a lighter note, Weston and O’Nan do make a likeable duo, and they have an odd charm together on screen. And kudos to O’Nan for being well meaning (playing at a frat house, Alex announces that they will play a song for boys who like girls and girls who like boys, while Jim adds that their music can also be enjoyed by boys who like boys), but this isn’t enough to carry Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best beyond another story about two white and creative heterosexual men trying to live the dream.