Stream It Or Skip It: 'Brazen' on Netflix, a Laughable Murder-Mystery Vehicle for Alyssa Milano
With Brazen, Netflix comes so close to basic cable, you can’t help but expect it to cut away to feminine hygiene commercials and cheapo ads in which middle-aged guys yell about low-interest used car financing. The movie is an Alyssa Milano vehicle based on a novel by Nora Roberts, and if those names aren’t enough to lure you and your friends in for a screwcap-wine-and-fuzzy-slippers TV party, it’s a romance/serial killer thriller combo with an S&M subplot – which means it might just be time to parse the differences between good trash and bad trash.BRAZEN: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Kathleen (Emilie Ullerup) has a secret. A dark secret. A naughty secret. That padlocked door in the back of her closet? It ain’t a panic room or a secret stash of Fritos and Kit Kats. No, it’s her red-light boudoir, where she’s a star webcam dominatrix for Fantasy, Inc. It’s a side gig for her, because she’s a high-school English teacher, and there’s a joke to be made here about educator pay, but even if it might be funny, it really wouldn’t be that funny.
Elsewhere, Kathleen’s sister, Grace Miller (Milano), a murder-mystery author whose name is bigger than the titles on her book covers, reads a chunk of a pageturner to a live audience. Then she gets a panicky call from Kathleen, so she jets on over. They haven’t spoken in five years, so Kathleen catches her up: She’s no longer addicted to pharmaceuticals, has found her calling force-feeding Shakespeare to teenagers at the local Snob Academy and is going through a craptacular divorce. She’s fighting for custody of her son and has some dirt on her rich dickhead of an ex. She doesn’t mention the whips and chains; would you? Grace says she’ll stay for a while and cosign the refi and whatnot, although at some point she’ll likely have to take an hour or two to bang out some new novels to be sold in airports.
The next morning as she’s formulating a plot that’s absolutely about the patriarchy and not about exploiting women being murdered – she got in a fight with sis about that – Grace looks out the window and gets an eyeful of the neighbor as he’s driving his power saw through some wood, which doesn’t really make sense as a double-entendre, but when you’re middle-aged like Grace (and myself!), you take what you can get. He’s Ed (Sam Page), a hunky homicide detective who’s fixer-uppering the house next door when he’s not reading Grace’s novels in 45 minutes. They flirt, and that night they go out for drinks under the guise of Grace needing his assistance to formulate a relatively realistic convoluted plot for her next book. As soon as they get home and finish mashing face, Grace finds Kathleen dead on the floor, and coincidentally, right there in the same room are two experts in sussing out murderers. Meanwhile, one smaller mystery has been solved: We now know what was going on with all those creepy stalker POV shots we saw earlier in the movie.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Brazen removes 47.3 shades from 50 Shades of Grey to make it worthy of a Lifetime Original, then crosses it with the Preposterous Nanny Thriller Deadly Illusions, a Netflix original in which Kristen Davis played a murder-mystery novelist caught in a real-life thriller situation.
Performance Worth Watching: A Who’s the Boss?-related crush lingering since 1987 perpetually endears me to Milano, yet I’m not far gone enough to offer apologies on her behalf for this forgettable toothless cornball junk.
Memorable Dialogue: Ed’s detective partner (Malachi Weir) has clearly mastered the art of making declarative statements: “It all fits. We got ourselves a serial killer.”
Sex and Skin: If you think Milano will cram her cleavage into pleatherwear in a wholly implausible police-sanctioned attempt to lure out the murderer, you’re right on. But if you think anything in this movie will be hot ‘n’ sexy, you’re dead wrong. You’ll find more licentiousness on Romper Room.
Our Take: Gonna have to punt on the good trash/bad trash analysis today, because Brazen is mediocre trash, utterly bereft of surprises, compelling characters and a single decent line of dialogue. The title (truncated from Roberts’ novel, Brazen Virtue, the title of which consists of two words that are at worst nonsensical when paired, and at best both culled from the English language) implies a boldness that’s nowhere to be found in this thing. You’ll laugh at all the wrong times, and our inability to discern whether that’s intentional or not further drowns this movie in its own lukewarm bathwater. Even worse, it doesn’t even try to be tawdry; it’s barely even kink-adjacent. It’s a guilty pleasure for people who prefer guilt over pleasure.
So you know what you’re getting into here, director Monika Mitchell’s resume includes a raft of made-for-TV movies, including a few Christmas-related timewasters. It’s a slick, professional production that looks nice and clean and was probably edited with an $85 Williams-Sonoma cheese knife. Your eyes will roll out of their skulls long before the Milano character offers her murder-mystery “expertise” to the cops and they accept, in spite of her romantic involvement with the dick on the case, which should strike anyone with half a brain as a troubling conflict of interest on top of a troubling conflict of interest, and I mean that literally, because the one conflict of interest is sleeping with the other conflict of interest. Not that even this development is at all interesting, because Brazen aims to be the blandest, smoothest-drinking serial-killer dominatrix thriller in recent memory. Brazen? More like Lazin’!
Our Call: Brazen isn’t raisin’ anybody’s blood pressure. SKIP IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
Stream Brazen on Netflix