Synopsis: A prominent mystery writer and crime expert hurries back to her family home when her sister is killed and her double life as a webcam performer is revealed, ignoring the warnings of cool-headed detective and getting involved in the case.
Stars: Alyssa Milano, Sam Page, Malachi Weir, Emilie Ullerup, Matthew Finlan, Colleen Wheeler, Lossen Chambers
Director: Monika Mitchell
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: We’re ever so slightly into January but I can’t quite shake the cozy comfort of one of my favorite seasons of the year…and it’s not Christmas. No, it’s the cycle of holiday movies produced en masse for television by a growing number of networks and streaming services, aiming to pummel their target audiences with enough easy to digest 90-minute treats to fill a Santa-size stocking. Like a greedy kid in a small-town candy store about to go under but saved at the last minute by a hard-working single gal from the big city, I always go a little overboard in gathering my selections each year, finding that my time is more limited than I would like to get through them all. So, it’s around now when I start to gradually remove myself from these holiday affairs and get back to the reality of films where icicles can be used as weapons, not decorations.
Luckily, every now and then a movie like Brazen comes along and it’s a nice blending of both worlds that helps me ease my way back into the swing of things. There’s a feeling of familiar efficiency to suggest this adaptation of a popular Nora Roberts mystery novel from 1988 was produced quickly, with experienced director Monika Mitchell (The Knight Before Christmas) casting dependable actors well-versed in the one take turnaround to guarantee deadlines are met. It also hits the right notes in being just scandalous enough to make a younger viewer wish it went further but keep watching to see if it does and an older viewer to think it goes as far as necessary but secretly wanting just a small flash of flesh.
Celebrated mystery writer Grace Miller is riding high on the success of her latest novel when her estranged sister (Emilie Ullerup) calls, asking that she visit. Dropping everything and expecting to find her sister in serious trouble, she instead finds her younger sibling holding down a job as a schoolteacher at a prominent school and attempting to get her son back from her well-connected and wealthy ex. Within days, however, her sister is found slain and her double life as a webcam model is exposed, sending Grace into a tailspin as she works with the detective living next door (Sam Page) to find the killer…a killer that continues to strike.
I was surprised to find that the novel Brazen is based off of was nearly 34 years old because it’s made it to the screen without much alteration if I’m reading the synopsis correctly. Yes, it often comes off as a lengthier and better produced episode of a crime drama you’d see on network TV, but at the same time that’s selling short the work that Milano and Page are doing with the material. It’s standard-fare mystery-solving, with a number of red herrings and the typical fingers pointed at the most obvious (read: slovenly or repulsively creepy) characters, but the two leads believe in the material enough that you can’t help but take them as seriously as they are taking it. How Grace manages to make her way into the investigation is a stretch by any tinkering of plot mechanics, but the way Milano pitches it, I might have been convinced to let her take over the case as well.
For a film that largely has to do with webcam modeling, it’s quite chaste…like so many movies that take place at strip clubs where all the dancers are wearing bras and underwear. It’s just another way the film simply wants to remain neutral. Not aiming to upset anyone (save for the more conservative Roberts fans that bristled at the casting of the dependably outspoken Milano in a leading role), Brazen is a harmless 96-minute weeknight watch that leaves the door open for a sequel. While I can’t find any info that Roberts herself continued this character in future novels, I’d imagine the team of writers who brought Brazen to Netflix could come up with another case to solve that would check the same boxes. There’s a real lack of this kind of entertainment on the streaming site and if they were all made with such awareness of who they are all showing up for, why not throw some money at them and make a few more?