In the history of my bad movie scholarship, I’ve proposed several unifying theories. Perhaps the most important has been the Insane Foreign Businessman Auteur Theory, in which a wealthy oddball from overseas tries to emulate the movies he loves so much and comes up wanting. The Room, Miami Connection, and Troll 2 are all great examples. But what happens when an American somehow doesn’t understand the basic grammar of American movies? Then you get auteur Neil Breen and his bizarre paranormal techno-thriller arthouse blockbuster Double Down.
More Accurate Tagline: The Bourne Incomprehensibility
Guilty Party: Neil Breen. Normally I’d list all the things the auteur in question did, just to give the reader an idea of how much of his stink (and it’s always a dude) has been rubbed over this thing. With Double Down, it’s almost easier to list what Breen didn’t do. Makeup and lighting spring immediately to mind, because the credit in the end is listed as, no shit, “NONE.”
Synopsis: Holy shit, you guys, Aaron Brand (Neil Breen) is awesome. He majored in computer science and was first in his class in college. He was a fighter pilot and got all these medals, which he now puts on a sweet jean vest that’s only missing a kickass Whitesnake badge on the back. Then he was a covert agent for the government, but went rogue, and now he works for the highest bidder. It’s basically the resume you wrote at thirteen when you thought Solid Snake could stand to butch it up a little.
Brand cut ties with the government after they murdered his girlfriend, which is basically the dumbest thing they could have done. I have no idea what they were even trying to do, but if I started listing every single time that happened in this movie, this would go from being a review to a hostage situation.
Anyway, Brand basically turns himself into a tuna-gulping homeless man. He lives out in the desert in his Mercedes, hacking into government stuff and scampering gingerly over the reddish rocks on a perpetual spirit quest. He’s mostly bummed about his special lady being whacked, and having visions of her and him as kids. Occasionally he runs into a dying old man who’s supposed to symbolize America because Breen has been hiding his medication under his tongue this whole time.
He gets hired to shut down the Vegas strip for two months, and there’s some airborne anthrax running around too. He puts that on a guy, but nothing ever comes of it. I… I don’t even know what’s supposed to be happening here. Breen spends most of his time telling us via voiceover how ball-shatteringly awesome he is, then moping around the desert, checking on a sleeping bag where he keeps his girlfriend’s bones.
Eventually, he realizes literally no good person ever has used anthrax for anything, and he kills his employers — although some of them kill each other for no reason — and wanders off into the desert. He’s at peace with his girlfriend too, probably because she was a ghost being like, “Dude, stop putting anthrax on people.” That’s a good ghost right there.
Life-Changing Subtext: Technology, spirituality, and individuality are good, governments and chewing gum are bad.
Defining Quote: In other movies, you sometimes wonder what the main character is thinking. Breen’s been there, and he has a solution. Why wonder when you can just have your hero tell us on voiceover, or, you know in dialogue! Brand: I’m so confused and depressed at my double life! I’ve got so many questions, I’m so confused!”
If you’re looking for context, you’re asking the wrong questions, but here goes. He yells this at his girlfriend’s ghost while shaking her shoulders, like he’s upset about some weird racist joke she told to Egon Spengler.
Standout Performance: There’s not a single good one amongst the terrified collection of non-actors Breen somehow roped into his nightmarish vanity project. If you told me Breen was pointing an Uzi at them off camera during line readings, I’d believe you. You have to give this to Breen himself, who, though a terrible actor who delivers every line like a sleepwalker asking for directions out of this clown locker room that’s also his friend Jerry’s living room, is undeniably magnetic. You can’t look away. Sure, you’re waiting for him to somehow literally crash and burn, to discover some new method of failure where the laws of physics are temporarily suspended, but he does stand out.
What’s Wrong: There are times you can almost tell, almost, the kind of movie Breen wants to make. He’s clearly a middle-aged guy, and like most of us, he has rapidly diminishing fantasies about being a secret agent badass. So he makes a movie where he’s Jason Bourne. But he also lives in the desert, and that place fucks with your head. Like other desert dwellers — you might know them as the guys who founded nearly every religion that’s caught on — he’s developed a deep interest in the paranormal and the spiritual. So that shit’s going in, like stuffing a sausage with night terrors.
He’s also an artist. So in the middle of everything, he’s going to throw in symbolism, a timeline that jumps around, and, you know ghosts in thongs because fuck you, he paid for the goddamn movie, and what are you gonna say about it, Chad?
It’s a vanity project, and there aren’t even the rudimentary checks and balances that kept The Room from featuring a vampire with a flying car. This is Breen’s psyche, and it is an extremely sweaty place.
Flash of Competence: Breen uses a ton of stock footage, and that’s pretty well shot.
Best Scenes: Double Down features the greatest proposal scene in film history. Brand and his special lady friend are naked in the pool, although his girlfriend is wearing a flesh-colored thong, so I’m not entirely sure if she’s supposed to be naked, or just has baffling taste in swimwear. A sniper takes her out just after she says yes, because even Breen has a better handle on irony than Alanis Morrissette (ooh, time travel burn). For some reason, he ends up floating face down alongside the not-future spouse, like he’s making fun of her for floating like a dead goldfish. While her legs are clamped resolutely together, he’s floating free. Ah, romance. Though he might need to apply some SPF 1000 to the back of that sack.
Whenever Brand sits down with his computers, and it’s always several laptops because geniuses can’t use just one, they’re all off. He doesn’t even have fake stickers on the screens to pretend they’re on, either. I’m just assuming part of his paranormal abilities are using deactivated electronics. He does have a bio-medical implant (shown in disgusting stock footage) that has no other effect on the plot.
I don’t know what it is with crazy filmmakers and go-nowhere cancer plots, but this one has one. While having dinner with some people — relatives, friends, who knows — they tell him their daughter Megan has brain cancer. “Oh, no,” Brand says, in the same tone of voice he might use if he found out they were out of Cap’n Crunch. Then he puts his hand on her head and convinces himself he cured her. Did he? Maybe. She’s never in the movie again.
Transcendent Moment: Every last glorious second.
Double Down is one of the most baffling films I’ve ever slapped eyes on. What’s even better is Breen has made two more, one every four years. He’s due for another in 2017.