starring Colleen Wainwright, Robert Beckwith, Jason Sales, J. Keith Butler
written and directed by Mikon A. Haaksman
by Walter Chaw In order to get someone to vomit, one character asks another if they'd like to eat at Long John Silver's. It's a bright comic moment in the midst of the otherwise awkwardly-scripted 97 Brooks, the zero-budget digital video debut of Mikon A. Haaksman, who raised money for his project by soliciting contributions from friends and family. While the cast (largely composed of Haaksman's friends) is game, the screenplay, direction, and editing betray them at every turn. 97 Brooks lacks pace and rhythm--that visual or thematic hallmark that would have guided the movie over its essential lack of ear and many a narrative leap and difficulty. It isn't so much that 97 Brooks is a terrible film, it's that it has neither the wit nor the special something to overcome its amateurish screenplay and production values.
Dorothy and Peter (Colleen Wainwright and Robert Beckwith) are small-town cops finding themselves out of their league when Simon (Jason Sales), a suave serial killer, sets up shop in their backyard. Borrowing from sources as diverse as The Silence of the Lambs, Clay Pigeons, Blue Steel, and "The X Files" (for which Haaksman served as a production assistant), 97 Brooks' first weakness is an over-emphasis of the alleged irresistibility of the Ted Bundy-esque Simon (echoes of Tom Cruise's winking omni-sexuality in Eyes Wide Shut). Forgiving such head-scratchers as a cannibal killer poisoning his victims with arsenic and a predator in a tiny community going through almost no pains to disguise his murderous rampage (he dates every girl in town, every girl in town is consequently carved to bits; hmm...), 97 Brooks is hurt the most by the way its intentions are transparent even as its execution falls short. It's a child telling a lie.
Squandering a nice low-key performance from Wainwright and a finale that surprises and delights with its empty nihilism, 97 Brooks needs to be tightened and rewritten. The parts of the film that work don't remind us of different films, but rather have a uniformity of feeling and anger--and through that a force of a peculiar zeitgeist that would have elevated the production from a somewhat embarrassed exercise to an independent film of power and conviction. Originally published: March 10, 2002.