Punching and punching.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 is an old school action flick starring Vince Vaughn who seems to be trying to break the molding of his comedic past. The film has a fun and ridiculous plot that might not add much new to the genre, but it certainly packs a punch.
Vaughn plays Bradley Thomas, a down-on-his luck guy with severe anger management problems. Bradley is a tough character to hate, but it is somewhat hard to fully like him either. His sarcasm is great, but some of his characteristics are more off putting than endearing. One thing this film does right is that we don’t have to like Bradley. There is no wasted time trying to force him into a redemptive or good position. He is a criminal with a code, but at the end of the day he is still a criminal.
Due to financial hardships, Bradley begins running drugs. After a deal goes wrong, he is sent to prison for his crimes. His former employers kidnap his wife to force him into becoming an assassin for hire. Bradley must now fight to save his family—this is where the meat of the film really is.
The best parts of the movie come when Bradley is able to beat the complete hell out of other people. The pulpy action sequences are great. The choreography is nice, and each scene isn’t cut to pieces. The action, snark, and violence are simply top-notch. The evil Warden Tuggs (played devilishly by Don Johnson) proves an adequate foe for the latter half of the narrative. The film reaches nearly absurd scenarios as it goes, but somehow it all hangs together in an enjoyable way.
The film gets better as it goes along. This creates an interesting dynamic as you can forgive the weaker parts of the narrative as they come at the beginning. The biggest problem with this film is that it is a little too long. None of the scenes are completely unnecessary, but several could be cropped. The film breaks the two-hour line, and really there isn’t enough meat on the bones for this. Cropping this to a lean 90 minutes would let the action come faster, and the film would work better.
Overall, if you’re looking for pulpy action grounded in more old-school scenes and something that lacks the absurd bombast of John Wick, this one is a winner. I enjoyed it greatly, but there are limitations to the genre overall. Worth a watch. 8/10.