Double Down (2005)

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YES!! After weeks of nothing good, the ISCFC hits paydirt with one of the most amazing so-bad-it’s-good movies perhaps ever, a glorious debut from a filmmaker who’s got a strong idea of what he wants and knows exactly how to get it. The only question that anyone should have is “where can I find this movie?” because it’s an absolute guaranteed good time.

A word about actor / writer / producer / director / musical director / editor / production designer / production manager / casting guy / locations guy / catering guy Neil Breen (not a joke, he has all these jobs in the credits). He’s an architect in Las Vegas and uses the money he makes in that job to fund his own movies – in case you were wondering, he’s never had any formal training in any aspect of the movie business. He’s made three, with a fourth one ready for release soon, and they all sound absolutely fantastic. You may have heard of him already, as Red Letter Media have covered “Double Down”, and Paste Magazine made his 2009 effort “I Am Here….Now” their 21st rated b-movie of all time, but if you’ve not, please read on.

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The first ten minutes are packed with so much insanity that I could do an entire article on them. We’re introduced to Aaron Brand, who’s had almost as many jobs as Breen had on this movie. He’s a former soldier who learned how to use computers and then became the greatest programmer ever, building the majority of the satellite systems and military applications used by the world’s governments. He’s basically the best at everything ever, and decided to become a mercenary, selling his services to the highest bidder, whoever they might be. He’s a patriot, but he’s protected himself by planting biological bombs in seven of the world’s biggest cities, that if he doesn’t send an encrypted message to them every three days, they’ll go off and kill millions. He’s got bio-electronic implants which help him be the most awesome person ever, and a ton of medals too. His fiancée, who he’s been in love with since he was seven years old, is shot and killed because he’s too awesome, and his latest job is to shut down the Las Vegas strip for a month.

Deep breath. This information is given to us via voiceover, perhaps the flattest and most boring monotone you’ll ever hear, as we see Brand go about his daily business. This involves sleeping in a car out in the desert, eating cans of tuna fish (he has hundreds of them in a box in the boot), and using one of four or five laptops and seven mobile phones, along with a satellite dish he mounts to the car, to control all the world’s computers, or whatever. For a former soldier / ultimate badass, he’s not all that tough-looking, balding with a sort of skinny-guy-gone-to-seed thing going on; and when we see him run across the rocks of the Nevada desert, he looks like he’s never done it before, coming close to falling on multiple occasions.

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So he’s a patriot, and the movie I guess wants us to sympathise with this guy who decided to forge his own path, but…he’s prepared to kill millions of people if the Government messes with him? What about if he gets ill and needs an operation? What about if he dies out in the desert? He’s a goddamned monster! Who the hell wants to close down the Las Vegas strip for three months anyway?

I think his relationship with his fiancée is very interesting, too. There’s plenty of footage of two seven year olds running and playing, but when we see them as adults, he’s…well, Neil Breen, and she’s very obviously at least a decade younger than him. What? She’s shot and killed while the two of them are in a pool – he naked, she in a thong – and the contortions the poor actress has to go through to avoid showing her boobs to the camera is pretty wonderful (although you can’t help feeling bad for her, as presumably she was cajoled into doing it). Brand then shows his first emotion, and when she’s floating face-down in the pool, he decides to join her, although because he’s entirely naked, we get a bit more of “Little Neil” than we perhaps needed, through his legs.

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After a quick bit of information about how some wars can’t be stopped, only for the movie to forget this part and have Brand tell us a few minutes later that he can stop or start any war with his computer skills, the plot…nope, I’m definitely not going to finish that sentence with “gets going”. The plot never gets close to getting going. He’s doing the same stuff at minute 80 that he is at minute 8, and the scenes appear spliced together basically randomly, with the exception (maybe) of the last one. Here’s a recap of what you can expect to see, should you pop on “Double Down” at a random moment:

  • Brand typing on one laptop, putting it down and typing on another laptop
  • Brand using a wrench on his satellite dish
  • Brand eating tuna
  • Brand waking up on the ground next to his car, where someone’s written “HELP ME” in blood on it
  • Brand running across the rocks

There are other actors in this movie, but they don’t appear all that often. There’s a couple of FBI agents who Brand helps bust an anthrax deal out in the desert at a ruin used for paintball – after he helps them out, the young one asks why they don’t track him, to which the veteran replies “He’s on a quest. Don’t ask, he’s protected. From the very top. Extremely top secret!” Then there’s the heads of the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security, who are gathered in Las Vegas for some reason; there’s his wife; and then there’s the couple. His “plan” involves picking up a couple from the wedding chapel where they just tied the knot, then taking them out to the desert, killing the husband, drugging the wife and then pretending she married him. I think? Only problem is, it’s the wrong couple so he just leaves them both in the desert to die! There’s a related scene where he phones up his prostitute friend and gets her to walk in front of his car so a guy is slightly distracted, and Brand can inject him with something. Even though her involvement in Brand’s plot is basically zero, she’s then murdered off screen by government agents! In case you were wondering, the couple he was supposed to pick up are also found dead in the desert, and Brand’s voiceover says they committed suicide, despite them having bullet holes in their foreheads and no guns anywhere nearby.

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The old man in the desert and the dinner party! I just can’t believe this really happened. Brand meets an old man in the desert, who keels over dead a few minutes later, pressing a small stone into Brand’s hand (it looks like fool’s gold). Brand becomes convinced of the mystical power of this stone, and when he’s at a dinner party with a family we’ve never met before and whose identity or relationship with Brand is never mentioned, tries to use it. The father tells Brand that the little girl has just been diagnosed with a brain tumour, so Brand holds the stone in one hand and presses the other hand on the girl’s head. Later that day, he delivers the immortal line “Tonight, I believe I cured Megan of cancer”. WHAT?

The dialogue is occasionally confusing because the voiceover is delivered at the same pitch as it, and there’s no pause between the end of his internal monologue and the start of a conversation; it’s also occasionally confusing because it makes no sense at all. Brand shoots a few people at one point who remain entirely off-screen, so you’ve no idea who they are, what they’re doing or why he wants to shoot them. Despite being filmed on 35mm, it’s achieved the remarkable feat of looking like it was shot on a cheap camcorder, so hats off to Breen for that.

He causes chaos round the world as a distraction for his plan, including bringing what looks like the Japanese train system to a halt – although how much of a distraction that would be to the police in Las Vegas is never elaborated on. Then, instead of carrying out the plan, he gives up the other conspirators to the police, saying this should prove his patriotism (he really wants you to know how patriotic he is). The end!

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Well, pretty much. It’s hard to overstate how absolutely bonkers this movie is, the insane dream of a man with no talent for filmmaking whatsoever. But, there’s a couple of odd little threads running through it. First up is the bodybag which he keeps opening, to find either his dead wife or a skeleton; he seems aware she’s dead, but thinks he can use the stone to bring her back to life (she sensibly refuses, not wanting any more time spent with this lunatic). Then there’s the “HELP ME”, and the tuna. Here’s my theory. Brand had a breakdown from his wife leaving him, and went mad, living out in the desert in his car, giving himself mercury poisoning by eating nothing but tuna; everything we see is his dying hallucination, including the end when he and his wife, returned to him but sitting in the back seat like he’s her chauffeur, drive off into the sunset. It’s the sort of idle daydream of enormous power (what if I was the best secret agent ever?) that we’ve all had at one time or another.

Okay, it’s probably not that, but there’s stuff in this movie which doesn’t make sense in a new way. What it definitely indicates is that Neil Breen is a filmmaker worth watching. The best movies right at the bottom of the pile are almost always singular visions, and this is 100% from the fevered subconscious of one man.

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I could honestly write about this film all day. It’s among the least entertaining movies ever made, with understanding a great deal further away at the end than it is at the beginning. But, the truly wretched are always interesting in ways that cookie-cutter Hollywood products just aren’t, so if you want to see a real genuine un-movie, then this could be for you.

Rating: thumbs up

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