I’m beginning to think Chris Sparling is trying to carve a screenwriting career as the Tight, Enclosed Spaces Guy. First, he put Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for the entirety of Buried. Now, he’s trapped three young co-workers (played by Men in Black 3‘s Alice Eve, The Hurt Locker‘s Brian Geraghty and The Wackness‘ Josh Peck) in an ATM for most of, um, ATM.
They were just on their way home from the office Christmas party. Now they’re stuck inside a Fotomat-sized glass cage in the middle of a sprawling parking lot, because some guy in a winter hoodie stands outside rather menacingly. It could be the Eskimo Joe’s mascot, for all we know, until he kills someone.
There are only so many scenarios one can run through in such a setting before credibility collapses, and I think Sparling and feature-debuting director David Brooks hit them all. While sometimes predictable, it also throws a few thrilling curves — Eve’s not included — on its way to an epilogue that I found clever, yet will dare many viewers to like it.
One would expect to see Sparling’s name affixed to Brake, another new high-concept thriller that mostly stays in one spot. Its area of anarchy is a Plexiglas coffin of sorts, itself within a darkened car trunk, so claustrophobia is doubled.
Waking up in it is Secret Service agent Jeremy Reins (Stephen Dorff, Immortals), and he’s face to face with a digital clock forever counting down in few-minute intervals. Each time it hits zero, something else happens — whether visual, auditory or physical — resulting in a mystery whose wattage rises with each click.
It’s quite ingenious, thanks to first-timer Timothy Mannion’s economic-minded script and director Gabe Torres’ know-how at doing it justice. Ultimately, I’d compare it to a super-sized episode of 24 that never cuts away from Jack Bauer. One could say Dorff exudes the same kind of intensity Kiefer Sutherland did in his signature role, but the guy’s shown it before. It’s not like he’s unproven talent — just a solid actor due for a comeback. The breakneck-paced Brake is a great step toward that, if only enough people see it.
Both ATM and Brake‘s discs house featurettes that reveal their directors’ respective tricks, so watch them after the films — something I wouldn’t recommend for most making-of segments. Also, with Brake, navigate over for a not-your run-of-the-mill music video featuring the gifted composer Brian Tyler at work. It, too, is worth the ride. —Rod Lott