Synopsis: Drug addicts living on the streets in rural Ohio are recruited by a body broker and treatment center mogul and offered treatment in Los Angeles, where saving lives comes second to the bottom line.
Stars: Jack Kilmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Rothe, Alice Englert, Peter Greene, Owen Campbell, Thomas Dekker, Sam Quartin, Frank Grillo, Melissa Leo
Director: John Swab
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: It was bound to happen sooner or later but I think that finally, in February 2021, we’re starting to see the effect of the slowdown of film production in Hollywood. Even a minor halt in filmmaking has a ripple effect that catches up eventually and the unusually long hiatus brought on by the health crisis in 2020 is about to come crashing in on us. Sure, it still seems like we’re getting a nice dose of new titles weekly, but a number of them are really just delayed releases finally making an appearance, smaller festival films that normally would have played to more niche art-house audiences, and middle of the road indie fare you’d be apt to discover in Redbox or down the new release list as your scroll through your streaming site of choice.
I’m thinking Body Brokers is one of those properties that likely would have gone unnoticed for most, only discoverable for fans of the actors and anyone who trusts the “recommended for you” lists even the pickiest of viewers fall for in a pinch. While it aims to shine a brighter light on the corruption that exists within the drug rehabilitation industry, it keeps getting in its own way in strange narrative aspects, burying a compelling story underneath flimsy drama. The resulting two hours are a squirmy sit, keeping viewers wondering where the characters they like went and wishing those they aren’t engaging with would get their act together.
Young druggies in love Utah (Jack Kilmer, The Nice Guys) and Opal (Alice Englert, Beautiful Creatures) steal to survive and feed their habit in a dead-end Ohio burb. If they aren’t holding up a local convenience store for a paltry sum, Opal is turning tricks to pay for her drugs while Utah waits outside their hotel room, nervously biting his nails and wondering how he’s ended up in this situation. Both are thrown a lifelife when Wood (Michael Kenneth Williams, 12 Years a Slave) crosses their path and buys them breakfast before pitching the two on a rehab clinic in California that he can get them into if they decide to get clean. Opal isn’t falling for what she thinks is another good Samaritan who wants something more but Utah’s gut tells him this is his one opportunity to get out and he better take it…so he does.
Arriving in California by himself to enter a posh rehab center run by Dr. White (Melissa Leo, London Has Fallen), he meets a former addict working intake at the clinic (Jessica Rothe, Valley Girl) and begins his detox and journey toward sobriety. It’s about this time writer/director John Swab starts to turn the dial on Body Brokers from its humble trajectory about kicking a habit to a less interesting crime drama that tracks Utah being recruited by Wood to make money off of other addicts. Working as a sort of twisted pyramid scheme, the more addicts Utah can get into rehab (and the more times they go to rehab) the more money he can make, specifically when he is working with the facilities owned by Frank Grillo’s (The Grey) amped up greasy huckster. Teaming up with Wood, the partnership becomes more of the mentorship his recovery should have been…until the risks start to outweigh the reward.
If you’re going to see the movie at all, it should be for another solid performance from Williams. Though Swab gets a lot of things wrong in Body Brokers, one thing I will give him credit for is creating “bad guys” that aren’t what you’re used to seeing in these types of films. Neither Wood nor Utah become these obnoxious boneheads the more money they make, they actually seem to be learning and absorbing the ins and outs of the con and you get the impression that, were it not all so illegal, they might have put their minds to better use on a sustainable business elsewhere. Williams could have carved Woods with a darker edge to his actions, but he sticks to his original instincts in keeping him forthright and it gives the character extra authority later on when it becomes important. He at least helps Kilmer out when the young actor struggles to make difficult scenes in the final act appear more of a challenge. Without Williams on hand Kilmer is often a bit at sea, and he doesn’t get much help from Leo and Grillo, both of whom show up in glorified cameos. I like Englert and Rothe but Swab has written them with such a two-dimensional slant that if they were to turn profile they’d disappear altogether.
More than anything, the impression I was left with is that there’s a better movie (or documentary) to be made about this subject. I found that the people I was most interested in were the characters played by Leo, Rothe, and Grillo…and they’re hardly even touched upon aside from being pawns that Utah and/or Wood have to work around. Even though Body Brokers ends with a sort of cruel reminder of the fragility of addiction, it doesn’t acquit the rest of the film from feeling a bit unnecessary. That’s not exactly how you want to summarize your night’s entertainment when turning off your TV.