Bulked up, ripped and in no mood to crack wise, Vince Vaughn has undergone one of those actorly transformations that often signals a quest for gold statues. But he’s after something much more endearing: He wants to become the new Charles Bronson. 'Brawl in Cell Block 99' is the kind of vicious, no-nonsense prison drama that dads dream about when the TV is finally theirs to command. Deliberately paced and styled (every bone crunch is lovingly amplified), the movie builds to a brisk boil: stoic Bradley (Vaughn), who often lets his shaved, tattooed dome do the talking, is a recently laid-off mechanic. Returning to the criminal world where he made his name, he’s involved in a drug deal gone bad. Bradley nods goodbye to his heavily pregnant wife and settles into a medium-security facility staffed by benign guards for a seven-year stint.
Indie writer-director S. Craig Zahler has no interest in your typical shiv fights for dominance; he sends his plot on a near-surreal trajectory when Bradley learns that his wife has been kidnapped by a drug lord who requires him to up his bad behavior so he will be transferred to a scarier prison to take out a squealer. 'Brawl' then becomes a nightmare in scenes of skull-splattering violence that are truly sickening (and wonderful). Don’t look for a deeper meaning. Just soak up the grindhouse.
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