Here's a triple bill dying to be made: "Buried," in which Ryan Reynolds spends the entire running time in a coffin; "127 Hours," featuring James Franco, an immovable boulder and little else; and the newly released "Wrecked," a modest survival tale starring Adrian Brody as a car-crash victim trapped in the woods. Of this uneasy trio, "Wrecked" might be the weakest, but only because it delivers on the simplistic experience suggested by the scenario rather than attempting to transcend it.
Secured by Brody's committed performance, the feature-length debut of director Michael Greenspan has the stable definition of a one-act play, and only falls apart when the plot starts to repeat itself. Brody's unnamed character awakes post-car accident riddled with amnesia. Spotting a dead body in the backseat, he begins to unravel the mystery behind the events that led him to this isolated location, but the clues are sparse.
Surrounded by dense foliage, grimacing in pain from debilitating head injuries and stuck in the confines of the passenger seat, Brody looks frantic from the first minute and holds the expression throughout. Christopher Dodd's screenplay must have read almost entirely in descriptive terms. Save for a few crucial plot details muttered by the character and overheard on the car radio, the exposition is entirely visual.
This makes it enthralling, to a degree, until it breaks the rules of the genre. Both "Buried" and "127 Hours" contain two fundamental aspects: Single, focused performances that dominate the movie and clever camera placement that makes the best of an enclosed space. For its initial 20 minutes or so, "Wrecked" follows suit, but once Brody escapes the car and crawls through the woods with a happy-go-lucky dog by his side, it turns into a lesser movie. The energy behind the filmmaking challenge dissipates and Dodd's script becomes a repetitive document of Brody's mounting frustrations. When he sees an imaginary woman (Caroline Dhavernas) beckoning to him for what feels like the dozenth time, it becomes clear that Greenspan's bag of tricks is in short supply.
Still, Brody's engagement with the material prevents "Wrecked" from falling apart. The actor throws himself into the role, eating worms and roaches, facing down hungry wild life and a gun-toting drifter while dissecting the flashes of memory that pop into his head. He spends most of the time crawling, grunting and moaning, his face caked in dirt.
And yet, when an established actor takes on such a basic gig, it's hard not to read it as a cry for help. (Conversely, if the filmmakers had cast a no-name actor, it would have constituted a breakout performance.) Both "Wrecked" and Brody's recent appearance in a Super Bowl advertisement for Stella Artois appropriately capitalize on his lanky appearance and sad-puppy eyes, but given that he won an Oscar for "The Pianist" less than 10 years ago, one has to wonder why he's bothering with this stuff. Brody might be plagued by a different sort of amnesia, having forgotten that his standards were once a lot higher.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Few audiences will bother with the movie in theaters, although Brody's star power should generate strong numbers on VOD.
criticWIRE grade: B
"Wrecked" opens at New York's IFC Center on Friday, followed by the Laemmle's Sunset 5 in Los Angeles on April 8th. It is currently available on VOD.