Mystery writer Grace Miller has killer instincts when it comes to motive - and she'll need every bit of expertise to help solve her sister's murder.
I’m sorry to report that Alyssa Milano does not forego her long-standing ‘no nudity clause’ in Brazen — and I’m more sorry for her than for me (after all, I’ve seen Embrace of the Vampire), because that’s about the only thing that could save this mess. Milano is Grace Miller, authoress of thriller novels. Here is an excerpt from her most recent masterpiece, titled Brazen Virtue: "She did not expect to die that night. Sara Bowman was precise in everything, and dying was not on her agenda. She had no enemies that she knew of. In general, his life was quite ordinary. Yet there she was, lying in a pool of her own blood. The manner of her death violent, even deranged. Who would want to kill the ordinary Sara Bowman? And then it dawned on her. What if she wasn’t ordinary? What if she had a secret life?" It would have to be a very secret secret life indeed if not even “Sarah” herself was aware of it. It turns out that Brazen is based on a novel also called Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts; I’m not familiar with her work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if her books opened with the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” or some variation thereof. In addition to a purveyor of purple prose, Grace is a dispenser of clumsy exposition, like when she tells her sister Kathleen (Emilie Ullerup) that “Last I heard you were addicted to pills and you abandoned your son.” Something tells me this is not news to Kathleen, who is an English teacher at an upper-class boys’ high school: “Next week’s essay will be on Hamlet. How would Hamlet feel in our digital age? I’m pretty sure Ethan Hawke already answered this question, and the answer wasn’t very compelling (besides, a better question would be how would Romeo feel in the digital age, considering that a simple SMS would have saved him a lot of trouble). Would you believe that Kathleen herself just happens to have a double life of her own? Well, she does; her alter ego is Desiree, a web cam dominatrix. Wait, what? I guess all her customers must be naughty little boys, because for a fetish based on discipline, this is incredibly lazy. Anyway, Kathleen soon gets sent to web cam heaven, and Grace hijacks her sister’s homicide investigation, which is nominally led by Detective Ed Jennings (Sam Page) — who conveniently lives next-door to Kathleen — and his partner, Detective Ben Parker (Malachi Weier), who may be named after Spiderman’s uncle, but he looks like the lead singer in a Melvins cover band. Grace talks Ed and Ben’s boss, Captain Rivera (Alison Araya) into appointing her a “consultant” on the case (someone’s been watching too much Lucifer). Grace justifies this claiming that “I have an instinct for motive. I mean, that’s why my books are so successful. I can enter the mind of a murderer, especially those who attack women.” Ed, who is present and opposes the idea, fails to point out that Grace would be a pretty lousy writer (well, lousier) if she couldn’t freely enter the mind of a killer that she made up in the first place. Unchecked, Grace adds, “Do you know how long it took the NYPD to find the Times Square Rapist? Eight months. And I went in, studied the case, and they caught the guy three days later.” Again, it doesn’t cross Ed’s mind to call this a coincidence or suggest that the guy was caught thanks to those eight months of police work, and not Grace’s three days. The Captain, who must have found her badge in a cereal box, is sold, however; “Grace, I read your books from cover to cover as soon as I can get my hands on them. You truly are one of the most cunning profilers out there.” Thankfully, the scene ends before the brownosing becomes literal. What I don’t understand is why director Monika Mitchell — and that a woman directed this, as it were, brazen display of pseudo-feminism is most baffling — goes to such lengths to promote Grace as a prodigious detective mind when she never even comes close to determining the killer’s identity or motive (despite having “lots of ideas” about it), or why screenwriters Edithe Swensen and Donald Martin force Milano to say, with all the sincerity she can muster, that Grace’s novels are “about the exploitation of women and misogyny and patriarchy and how we do very little to protect the most vulnerable”, only to have her catch the villain by literally using her body as bait. It may contain no full-frontal nudity, but Brazen is nonetheless one of the most embarrassing movies Milano has ever been in (for what it’s worth, she’s a stone-cold MILF, though).