A young woman in a red coat is on the way to visit her sickly grandmother. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Not so fast, though. Because this isn’t “Little Red Riding Hood,” it’s the set-up for a first-person shooter game masquerading as an adrenalized urban thriller called Bushwick. The young woman is named Lucy (Pitch Perfect’s Brittany Snow), and she’s not hopping through the forest, but instead taking the subway to the titular Brooklyn neighborhood with her boyfriend. As soon as they get off at their stop, something’s…off. Where is everybody? And what are all of those blaring sirens and helicopter noises outside? They’re about to meet something far more insidious than the big bad wolf.
It turns out that while they were underground, war has broken out (I won’t spill more about how or why here). Black-clad paramilitary soldiers are shooting civilians, firebombs are turning the streets into Beirut, people are running for their lives. And now, so is Lucy. Written by Nick Damici and Graham Reznick, and directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, Bushwick starts off like a bat out of hell. New Yorkers who were living in the city on 9/11 knows the pit-in-your-stomach feeling of waking up on a beautiful day and seeing the world as they know it change in the blink of an eye. And for a while at least, Bushwick casts a haunting spell. But the story can’t decide where to go and fizzles out after the first 20 minutes or so. The rest is Call of Duty wheel-spinning as Lucy and a gruff janitor/ex-Marine she meets named Stupe (Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista) scramble from block to block dodging bullets and self-cauterizing wounds while they try to formulate a survival plan. It would have made a great short film.
The film’s chaotic, long-take action sequences are first rate. For a while, at least. But whenever the story stops to catch its breath and try to provide some context or social commentary, it fumbles and grasps for more than its bare-boned foundation can support. Bautista ends up being the movie’s hero in more ways than one. Not only is he a hulking, quick-thinking gentle giant who’s military training comes in handy against this mysterious invading army, he shows a surprising knack for his character’s more dramatic moments too. This former wrestler can actually act. Not that the movie has much call for it. It’s too busy trafficking in shooting-gallery mayhem. Aside from an admirably downbeat ending that reminded me a bit of Frank Darabont’s The Mist (a much better movie, by the way), what you’re really left with by the time the lights come up is that if you’re going to mess with New York City, you best pick on a different borough. C+