There’s a couple of central jokes at the heart of “Brother’s Justice,” a new fake-umentary opening this weekend.
1) Dax Shepard wants to make a martial arts movie.
Dax Shepard, if you recall, was a comedic performer who got his start on the hidden comedy prank show “Punk’d.” While it seemed like his sudden omnipresence in a number of studio comedies could be attributed to a relationship with “Punk’d” creator Ashton Kutcher, he was able to carve out a respectably funny persona in supporting roles from films like “Baby Mama” and “Idiocracy.”
In “Brother’s Justice,” Shepard documents what he feels is a million dollar idea: a martial arts film featuring him as one of two brothers who are forced to battle numerous assailants as they make their way down a mountain. The idea itself seems half-hearted, and we only get snippets of the story, but it doesn’t sound like an unworkable story concept. The joke seems to be that this undertaking would happen courtesy of Shepard, and that there would be an implausibility to a comedic performer like himself trying to be an action star.
The problem with this conceit is… who is Dax Shepard? Despite a solid resume, he’s only a bit-player in Hollywood, a supporting actor who doesn’t necessarily come across as a comedian. His best roles seem to play off his gangly physicality and a delivery that can go from disinterested to overwhelmingly aggressive within seconds. In fact, if you were to know nothing of his career, you would see him and conclude he was some sort of action star, or at least a manageable dramatic actor. Seeing him try to develop a kung-fu film is meant to subvert our image of Shepard, but there simply isn’t an image to subvert.
2) Dax Shepard is trying to get a movie made without a script.
We see Shepard pitching a number of celebrities, including best friend Kutcher, on “Brother’s Justice.” But no one bites. Part of that is because Shepard, who has sold scripts in real life that have yet to go into production, is pitching himself to close friends as an action star. What’s more noticeable is that, at least early on, he has nothing written down. No scriptment, no outline, no storyboards.
You could make a joke about how many movies genuinely start like this, but Shepard, like his onscreen counterpart, divorces himself from reality with the involvement of James Cameron. When Tom Arnold claims Cameron would be interested in directing “Brother’s Justice” sight unseen, it has the potential to play two ways. One, that a major director would agree to shoot a low budget actioner starring Shepard without seeing a script or even speaking to him. Or two, that Cameron is being dismissive of the idea and jokingly saying yes (off-camera) and/or Arnold is mocking Shepard with a lie. The first way would suggest that Shepard, the filmmaker, thinks we’re stupid. The second way is a joke that just doesn’t work or make sense, especially considering Arnold tells this dim variation on Shepard that Cameron isn’t free for a couple of years due to “Avatar” sequels.
3) Dax Shepard knows nothing about martial arts.
As the premise continues to stretch incredulity even further, we realize not only does Shepard know not even the barest amount of martial arts, but that upon initial training, he openly rejects any outside teaching. At this point, Shepard is playing himself as a vain buffoon, which again, would have a chance to be funny if Shepard were subverting an image of him that already existed.
This joke specifically doesn’t work because Shepard openly eschews traditional martial arts training, but for what? We know only snippets of the unwritten story driving Shepard‘s “passion.” And despite some name-dropping (Chuck Norris earns a few ironic unironic mentions), we never get the sense that Shepard has any affection for kung-fu movies. He’s not setting out to make an “action” movie, or a “drama,” he’s explicitly trying to make a “martial arts” film. With no appreciation of the genre, we don’t understand where Shepard’s understanding of what a martial arts movie would be, never mind what he envisions for “Brother’s Justice.”
And so “Brother’s Justice” wags its tail for an interminable length, trying to find a joke through sloppy improvs. Among show business mockumentaries, “Brother’s Justice” may be the least believable yet with a tin ear for how Hollywood works and a complete disinterest in its own subject matter, and Shepard favoring endless scenes of pigheaded arguing with more rational parties (including real-life producer Nate Tuck, very obviously not a real actor). There is one moment that rings true, a back-and-forth with Tom Arnold in which he and Shepard shake hands while talking over each other, agreeing on two completely different things. It’s easy to imagine that the pitch meeting for this sub-“Funny Or Die” skit of a film went exactly the same, the financiers stipulating that Shepard has to make something “funny.” [F]