Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bro': Motocross Mayhem & Redemption

How many times a day do we hear or say the word bro’? Short for “brother,” it has come to us as abbreviated speak from the ’60s era rise of the Black Power movement. Funny how no one ever seems to notice or acknowledge that. And we use it all the time now. We don’t even think about it. The word is understood universally. It has become, arguably, the most widely used three-letter slang designation in the world.  It cuts across all ethnic, racial, class and national divisions. It spawned the Chicano equivalent, “carnal,” a word that even more closely reflects the symbolic flesh and blood nature of bestowing brotherhood on those we choose to call our own.

Filmmaker Nick Parada knows this. He knows how we anoint our closest male friends with special status when we address them in this way. He understands that we also invoke the word as an overture of peace and a willingness to overcome our competitive and territorial instincts as men. He is acutely aware of the fact that in Southern California, the term has an even deeper significance among the skater, surfer, snowboarder and motocross crowd. Here, it signifies an extreme sports elevation to non-poser authenticity. It makes you one of the young men who other men envy; the fearless, ultimate risk-takers who women want to hook up with.

In Bro,' his first full-length feature, Parada focuses his lens on one facet of this world even as he crafts the story of a young man’s descent into  an exotic world of death defying motorcycle stunt riders, drugs, fast money and easy sex with hot girls drawn to the dudes who call each other “bro” only when they’ve proven to be more than mere pretenders.

With a cast that includes veterans such as Danny Trejo, Larry Fessenden and Gunner Wright, Bro’ also marks the feature debut for freestyle motocross champions Beau Manley and Colin “Scummy” Morrison, both members of the Metal Mulisha. Written, directed and produced by Parada, Bro’ is ultimately a story of redemption. At its center is Johnny (newcomer Will Chavez), a tame suburban kid working the counter at an athletic club. Enter unblemished co-worker (Rebekah Graf as Stephanie), and Johnny’s head gets immediately turned. When he finally overcomes his shyness and ask her out, she takes him to the track and introduces him to her older brother Jesse (Beau Manley), a daredevil party animal covered in tattoos who lords over the scene as the untouchable master of outrageously dangerous motorcycle stunts. Unfortunately, Jesse is the perfect antithesis of his younger sister.

Taking his sister’s new boyfriend under wing, Manley as Jesse, leads into the alluring depths of a world he could never have imagined, while inviting him to participate fully in its mayhem. It’s an age-old formula. Boy meets girl. Boy goes slowly bad and falls out of favor with girl while earning stature with the wild bunch. Boy eventually embraces badness with a no guts, no glory, gung-ho attitude. Badness bites boy in the ass. Hard. Parada, however, has graced his solid, straight ahead story with nuanced reflections of honest teen angst, even as he opens a window to a lifestyle and youth culture around a relatively new sport that has not yet been examined to such an electrifying degree in a narrative picture.

Though still a young director, Parada began making short films while still a teenager and was already an award winning regional television producer and director when he invited Kim Mackenzie to help him flesh out a coming of age story based on the pitfalls, challenges and moral dilemmas facing young people today. In Johnny, we identify a symbolic depiction of so many boys who have been raised by single, hardworking and often religious moms. As a result, like him, we are naturally drawn to the savvy, cool attitude and lust for life his newfound “bro” represents, a world of drugs and danger epitomized by Danielle (played perfectly by Alexandra Mason), an under-aged seductress who uses Johnny to break away from home.

In crafting a thoroughly believable thrill ride through the dark side, Parada gets a powerlift from sound supervisor Frederick Howard and a soundtrack that resonates and thrums with vitality. The music, a cross-section of the best contemporary underground alternative grunge core, hyper-hip-hop and cross-pollinated pop available anywhere with Kotton Mouth Kings, Eyes Set to Kill and Brokencyde being the three most notorious. Visually, the film is pristine, with motorcycle stunts, chases working to bolster the intense emotional moments that happen both indoors and out, during daylight and at night.

Working with non-actors and actors alike, Parada has culled surprisingly even overall performances that drive the narrative forward and, at moments, even enhance the gritty, real world plot. If the inexperience evident in some of the characterizations also leads to an occasional slight stumble and sputter as the tale unfolds, Parada remains undaunted in an a nearly invisible effort to show what he is capable of as a director. He succeeds in spades. We feel for his hapless hero and believe in Johnny’s ability to push past the delirium for an honest look at himself and the decisions he has made. At the same time, we root for his mentor and friend, his adopted big bro’ Jesse, a sympathetic, albeit  flawed and self-destructive, anti-hero who confronts equally life-changing choices.

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