Rarely have two leads seemed to be starring in different movies more than Andy Garcia and Emory Cohen in “Big Gold Brick.” Then again, it’s difficult to know exactly what type of movie writer-director Brian Petsos’ feature wants to be, so haphazardly does it search in vain for a consistent tone, a measure of lucidity and an overarching purpose. The tale of a suicidal writer who finds salvation through a chance encounter with a man of mystery who hires him to pen his autobiography, it’s a wildly flailing venture in every respect. No matter the arbitrary participation of Oscar Isaac, few viewers will find anything to latch onto when it debuts in theaters and on VOD on Feb. 25.
Awkwardly channeling a particular brand of zany late-’90s independent comedy, “Big Gold Brick” works very, very hard to generate eccentric dynamism. Constant slow-motion, transitional fades and wipes, and a soundtrack that segues on a dime between Beethoven, jazz and rock are some of the many devices utilized by Petsos. Yet there’s no rhythm to his material, either within scenes themselves or with regards to the narrative as a whole. Everything and everyone lurches about in a desperate bid to be hilariously weird, and the effect is to make the proceedings feel hopelessly strained, as if they know that there’s nothing funny going on and thus must compensate via out-there quirkiness and constant mugging.
In the latter case, Cohen proves the prime culprit. Sporting long hair and a green canvas jacket — both of which make him look like a standard-issue metalhead — his Samuel Liston is a drunken mess who abandons his life, gets run over by Floyd Deveraux (Garcia) and, upon recovering from a traumatic brain injury, takes up residence in the stranger’s home as his new biographer. Samuel is prone to fits of boozy weeping and screaming, as well as talking to the Santa Claus doll in his new bedroom. Nonetheless, this doesn’t perturb Floyd nor his sexy two-timing wife Jacqueline (Megan Fox), his juvenile delinquent son Edward (Leonidas Castrounis) or his daughter Lily (Lucy Hale), a former violinist whose career crashed and burned due to a cocaine habit, although you wouldn’t know it from the wholesome and beatific way the film depicts her.
Despite piling on character details and plot developments, “Big Gold Brick” is beset by torpor, in large part because every new incident is untethered to the ones that preceded and follow it. Such randomness is deliberate, and might have been energizing if Samuel and Floyd’s budding relationship served as the figurative port in the surrounding storm. Petsos, however, fails to provide a clear picture of either of his protagonists, much less a reason why they feel a deep, abiding connection to each other. Instead, Cohen hams it up in hysterical fashion that increasingly grates over the course of the film’s two-plus hours, while Garcia does a suave, enigmatic routine that’s undercut by the fact that we never learn who he really is, what he’s about or why he does what he does.
“Big Gold Brick” frames its action proper with snippets of Samuel recounting his odyssey while on a promotional tour for his book about his time with Floyd — dreary sequences that suggest the main result of this entire ordeal was to turn Samuel ponytailed and pretentious. By the conclusion of its zigzagging tale, the film has introduced Samuel’s supernatural mind-zapping powers, staged shootouts and bank heists, and — most laughable of all — imagined that Megan Fox’s sultry Jacqueline would have sexual interest in the unbearable Samuel. Isaac’s cameo as a crime boss with a leg brace and an eye patch is similarly out of left field, and while he brings a measure of legitimate strangeness to the proceedings, it’s not enough to prevent this affair from sinking like a stone.