' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Brotherhood of Justice (1986)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday's Old Fashioned: Brotherhood of Justice (1986)

Despite several names in the cast that would come to prominence not long after its debut, “Brotherhood of Justice” was a TV movie that aired on ABC, first in 1986 and then again in 1991. Indeed, myriad cliffhangers fading to black suggesting spaces for commercial drops, odd handheld camera work like tracking with a waitress carrying a pan of pizza where the actress seems to be going to great pains not to look at the camera, and the script’s determination to package Lessons to the youth of America all give it that distinct made-for-TV smell. The plot concerns a prestigious California high school beset by a crimewave so troubling that the local police pay a visit to the school’s principal (Joe Spano), a principal that brays about his school’s academic standing while simultaneously shooting Nerf hoops, a comical contrast I am not entirely certain was actually intentional. Rather than submit to private security, however, he gives a speech to the senior class that is, frankly, a thinly veiled call to arms, evoking Sam Adams telling the Sons of Liberty pre-Tea Party there was nothing else to be done. Sure enough, post-speech a vigilante unit of student council members and celebrated athletes emerges deemed the Brotherhood of Justice.

They are captained by Derek (Keanu Reeves) and co-captained by Les (Billy Zane), though the gang also includes Scottie who is played by Darren Dalton who also starred in 1984’s “Red Dawn” which I note because the “Brotherhood of Justice” suggests what might happen if The Wolverines of “Red Dawn” morphed into something like the malcontents of “Over the Edge”. This is because the Brotherhood begins with earnest intentions, if questionable tactics, going after drug dealers, even as the vandals of the film’s introductory passage seem to mysteriously vanish from the proceedings. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood gets results, though we see these results less than just hearing about them third-hand, either an emblem of the film’s paltry budget or of its director – Charles Braverman – taking the easy way out. Alas, the Brotherhood’s noble intentions quickly turn deplorable as they turn more and more violent and turn their attention less to legit troublemakers then to people they personally don’t like, settling scores, as the Brotherhood of Justice transforms into that which they set out to eradicate.

As you might expect, “Brotherhood of Justice” has innumerable poorly rendered passages, a slow motion knife attack and a hapless extra with a pointless control panel prop in particular, yielding high unintentional hilarity. Still, a cheap movie doesn’t have to be thoughtless, as countless modern indies and old school sci-fi goes to show, and Braverman’s film tries. Setting the film in California rather than Texas was probably a production necessity, but it still gives the film a chance to consider anti-Hispanic sentiment. Alas, this mostly goes nowhere, summarized in a sequence where the hapless gringos get a talking to from some surprisingly gracious Mexican gangbangers, a case of painting with the very clichés it seeks to subvert. What sticks out, however, is a sense of entitlement, evinced in Derek, who dresses like Steff McKee, dating Christie (Lori Loughlin), who works two jobs to get by, and her eventually drifting more toward proletarian Victor (Keifer Sutherland), whom Derek naturally eyes with suspicion.

Victor is never fully-formed, more just a red herring, but that also makes him emblematic of the lower class, fingered for all the community’s problems in this movie but never given a voice, and not having necessarily done anything. Derek’s journey, of course, means having to figure this out for himself, an archetypal journey not exactly sold by Reeves who, frankly, seems most at ease when there is less at stake. Billy Zane, on other hand, who in recent years has sadly fallen off the radar, is coolly hypnotic in his embrace of heinousness, introduced by eyeing a couple Mexicans like they are to blame for all the ills of the world. “What’d you want me to do, Derek?” he asks after the aforementioned knifing. “Pants him?” It’s less funny than stone cold, as if he fancies himself too cool for a burnout’s trite gags.

“Brotherhood of Justice” was made in the wake of the real life Legion of Doom, a gang comprised of well to do students from Fort Worth’s Paschal High in 1985. After watching the movie, I read Jan Jarvis’s 1985 article for Dallas’s D Magazine examining the Legion of Doom. Her comprehensive piece suggested the wholesome image these boys cut belied something more sinister, taking furious umbrage with non-conformity, even dabbling in Nazism. “Brotherhood of Justice” doesn’t dare get that dark, all except Billy Zane, who in his refusal to hint at a lurking humanity is the one actor getting across the idea that elitism as arrogance breeds evil. Put him on your high school guidance poster.

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