Producers: Sergio Bizzuto, Danny Sawat, Jonathan Bronfman, Jason Ross Jallet, Greg Lauretano and Brian Petsos Director: Brian Petsos Screenplay: Brian Petsos Cast: Andy Garcia, Emory Cohen, Megan Fox, Lucy Hale, Frederick Schmidt, Leonidas Gastrounis, Sergio Bizzuto, Michael Benjamin Hernandez, Tevin Wolfe, Shiloh Fernandez and Oscar Isaac Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Is there anything more depressing than a film that aims to be wildly eccentric and turns out dully sophomoric instead? (Though the adjective is perhaps unfair, given that it’s the director’s first feature.) “Big Gold Brick” was apparently intended as a wackily oddball riff on baseless celebrity and florid con-artistry, but the title turns out to accurately reflect its quality, despite some impressive names in the cast.
The contrived tale is told in flashback by author Samuel Liston (Emory Cohen), who reads from his best-selling book “With Bricks of Gold,” a biography of Floyd Devereaux (Andy Garcia), whom he meant under peculiar circumstances. Liston was an utter failure who skipped out on his rent before taking a bus to a random destination where, wandering out into the road, he was hit by Floyd, who was distracted by the custard he was eating. Floyd takes Samuel to the hospital, where he shortly emerges from a coma remarkably unhurt.
Floyd proposes that Liston write his biography and takes him home, where he meets his new patron’s fractious family. There are Jacqueline (Megan Fox), the much younger wife, a lawyer who’s clearly cheating on her husband; daughter Lily (Lucy Hale), a promising violinist whose prospects were dashed by drugs and is now working as a librarian; and Edward (Leonidas Gastrounis), a Goth teen with hobbies like killing rabbits.
Samuel acclimates himself as best he can to this strange environment, but he clearly has mental issues to contend with. Even before he was injured, he was volatile and out of control; now he’s having conversations with an inanimate object (a Santa statue in his bedroom) and experiencing episodes of dissociation and hallucination. At the same time he begins interviewing Floyd, who gradually but coolly offers stories about his flamboyant past and his important current job. But even their conversations take weird turns, like Floyd’s exhibition of a rare penny that Samuel apparently conjures up a tiny storm cloud to strike with lightning.
Floyd also takes Samuel out to meet people like a high school basketball player (Tevin Wolfe) who’s obviously way overage—and will later become the target of an abduction—and his overemotional coach (Michael Benjamin Hernandez), whose wife, Floyd intimates, he has known intimately. But the only person who appears to know anything about Floyd’s current life is his docile co-worker Roy (Shiloh Fernandez).
Ray plays a part in Floyd’s response to a third-act intervention by one Anselm Vogelweide (Oscar Isaac), a fey crime lord with plenty of quirks. (For one, he has a young nephew dress up in a powdered wig and eighteenth-century clothes to play Beethoven on his piano.) Anselm has a bone to pick with Floyd, which will culminate in Samuel once again using his thunderstorm power and a sudden celestial event that the makers of “Don’t Look Up” will find familiar. A coda at one of Liston’s book signings is intended as a final surprise but falls flat.
That can serve as a microcosm of Pestos’ entire film, which is the cinematic equivalent of a juggler who puts too many balls in the air, only to see them all come crashing down. His script simply introduces an excess of “fantastical” elements that he then tries desperately to connect into some sort of elaborately satisfying whole. But the details never really mesh, and in trying to get the pieces to fit in a way a viewer can comprehend, he adopts a sluggish pace that forces all the actors into a funereal mode that makes the performances feel as though they were being delivered in semi-slow motion. It also makes for a movie that, as edited by Bryan Gaynor, feel interminable at over two hours.
The pacing does, however, fit Garcia, who appears relaxed playing Floyd even in the more hectic episodes of the third act. His is certainly the most agreeable performance in the picture, though that’s not really saying much. Most of the other players are handed parts so thin that nothing could be made of them. But Cohen has a lot of screen time, and he’s terrible, flailing about wildly in search of some sort of characterization he never finds, though he’s better in the “present” scenes than he is in the overwrought flashbacks. Then there’s Isaac. He seems to be having fun playing the preternaturally strange crime boss, but it’s no more than an affected vaudeville turn than anything remotely approaching acting.
Quite simply, “Big Gold Brick” is pretty much a mess, though a technically well-made one (as it should be, considering it boasts more than thirty producers, including Isaac and Kristen Wiig) with professional contributions from production designer Justin Ludwig and cinematographer David Katz, though the effects are cheesy, presumably intentionally. One of the picture’s saving graces is the score—not the dissonantly frantic original music by Justin Hori, or the pop songs occasionally interpolated for some sort of comment on individual moments, but the extensive segments of classical pieces, mostly by Beethoven, that fill the soundtrack.
This is what must have been a vanity project that’s nothing to be vain about.