Review: Unfocused 'Body Brokers' an airless true story venture on drug epidemic
Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
There are dozens of compelling, noteworthy ideas floating around in John Swab’s intriguing but ultimately airless capitalist thriller “Body Brokers.” Primed with raw emotion about the drug epidemic, “Body Brokers” tries to expose the addiction system from how cruel and unjust it is, but ends up making you frustrated for lack of information. In trying to present “The Big Short” drug edition - complete with witty voice-over narrations on how the passage of Obamacare paved the way for dangerous and predatory drug rehabilitation programs to poach addicts off the street for hefty paychecks - the film competes with itself by spinning two different narratives that never formulate into one cohesive vision
“Body Brokers” opens with Utah (Jack Kilmer) and his girlfriend Opal (Alice Englert) robbing their local Ohio gas station in order to secure their next stash of heroin. It’s a cycle that’s often repeated with Opal occasionally using an abandoned motel room to have sex with strangers for cash. Enter Wood (Michael Kenneth Williams) who offers to fly them both to California and oversee their treatment in a rehab facility. Utah - trying to envision a brighter future for himself - takes the bait, leaving Opal and his crime riddled life behind.
But “Body Brokers” doesn’t care about Utah’s redeeming arch, rather watching him stumble into a new career field underneath Wood’s enterprise. Wood is a body broker or someone who rotates addicts into treatment centers for large sums of cash. Considering each treatment facility sets their own guidelines and pricing, they can net upwards of $120k for a simple 30-day stay because insurance companies always pay out. It’s a competitive field to secure bodies, and one sequence shows Wood literally auctioning off an addict over-the-phone to the highest bidder.
That’s an engaging hook, but “Body Brokers” never sinks its fangs deep enough into the system to make a compelling case against it. Instead, Swab bounces around between brief, interjected and stylized voice-overs, and a rags-to-riches tale that never develops beyond one dimensional characteristics. Indeed, Utah is left to wander between scenes and even strikes up a romantic courtship with the cute secretary he met in rehab (played by a criminally underused Jessica Rothe), but these take a backseat to the health care swindle that ends with a whimper.
Most of the expositional fact-checking is done by Frank Grillo who does an admirable job explaining how the Affordable Care Act is used to exploit those in need, but his presence marks a stain on Utah’s story. In each instance Kilmer is given free reign to explore his character, it’s awkwardly interrupted by Grillo explaining how enterprises game the healthcare system. For the first ten minutes it works, but once “Body Brokers” detours in another direction, Swab should have chosen a lane. He wants the best of both worlds, but he ends up getting high on his own supply.
Vertical Entertainment will release the crime thriller BODY BROKERS in Theaters and on Digital and On Demand on February 19, 2021.