Neil Breen is a maestro of terrible cinema and his movies are absolutely bonkers
In 2019 people love throwing the word ‘cult’ around like it’s going out of fashion, especially when attempting to describe the feverishly admiring fanbase of something quirky, esoteric or just plain old terrible.
Tommy Wiseau instantly springs to mind. His 2003 movie The Room supposedly has a cult fanbase, or so we’ve been told by legions of writers that appear allergic to the concept of a thesaurus. But in recent years a new face has emerged to challenge Wiseau for the title of cinema’s most loveable dunce.
His name is Neil Breen, a Las Vegas based real estate agent, architect and obsessed cinema buff that apparently one day looked at his bulging collection of movies and thought, “Couldn’t be that hard to knock up one of these things, right?”
Five movies later, Breen, like Wiseau, has found success on the back of a new kind of internet stardom; a celebration of mediocrity that enjoyable bad directors like Ed Wood can only roll over in their grave and dream about. Often touted as the worst writer, actor and director in the last 10 years, Breen has been slowly building his own cadre of eager fans, myself among them, as he attempts to live out his dream as a self funded god-like auteur.
But that’s where the crossover between Neil Breen and Tommy Wiseau ends. If Wiseau’s The Room is considered the Citizen Kane of bad cinema, than Neil Breen’s absolutely mystifying collection of paranormal spy thrillers truly occupy a space somehow even beyond that. I mean, what lies beyond the worn out cinema trope of comparing quality cinema to Citizen Kane? I have no idea. But whatever is there, it’s currently sharing a space with Neil fucking Breen.
This is because Breen’s movies are terrible. Like, peg on your nose terrible. But good terrible, I guess. Unfortunately not all of them tick the boxes of the “So bad it’s good” category, with 2009’s I am here (Pause. Still pausing. Yep. Just talk amongst yourselves. Doo doo doo doo. Here it comes. We’re getting there. Are you ready? The pause is ending. Okily dokily. Here we goooooo) now just flat out being a ham-fistedly awkward film that was conceived solely for Breen to give himself the world’s most audacious self-sucking blowjob.
To get more of a handle on what Neil Breen is all about, just throw the words “Neil Breen” into YouTube and see what comes up. To help get the party started, here’s a link to the trailer for Breen’s latest endeavour, a sci-fi (?) action movie called Twisted Pair:
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of arthouse cinema that is comparable in stinkiness to any of Breen’s movies; three hour long Norwegian period pieces that use a stick and a doner kebab to represent the long forgotten holocausts of the 18th century Hungarian peasant class. In the end I think what we find so terrible about this kind of movie is the overtone of artistic and intellectual superiority that seems to suggest that just because we didn’t quite “get” what the director was trying to show us with the stick and the kebab, we need to join the rest of the troglodytes back in dumb-dumb town to inject some more Three and a Half Men into our eyeballs.
Wiseau at least has finally welcomed his indoctrination into terrible director territory, in effect doing a complete 180 degree turn and claiming that The Room was always intended to be a dark comedy. By doing so he’s managed to turn The Room into a critical success instead of a down and out failure. As an audience this leaves us with an interesting quandary: now that Wiseau is in on the joke, is his brand of wacky cinema really that interesting anymore?
Enter Neil Breen. Unlike Wiseau, Breen hasn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that we love him for all the wrong reasons. He’s Karl Pilkington in the early days of XFM, long before Ricky Gervais wheeled him out in front of the Pyramids to talk about shitty nappies and make money out of the shape of his perfectly spherical head.
Breen is still unmapped territory. He’s a man without a map that is still exploring the limits of low budget filmmaking.
And so he should. I genuinely commend anyone indulging their creativity and filling the world with more artistic output. But like an episode of Funniest Home Videos, there’s a primitive gene that seems to get activated when we see people that look just like us having a really bad day. It’s the same gene that kicks into gear every time we drive past a car accident: “Oh I feel so terrible for them. I should stop looking. In a minute.”
But what does all this have to do with my overt dislike of the word cult? Let me explain. I think my problem with the word lies with the fact that a cult is defined as a collection of zealous single-minded automatons, that cast aside their individuality to lurk about in a cloak and devote their lives to something useless that exists on the fringes of society.
In all fairness, I don’t think we can really describe bad cinema that way; we don’t sheepishly fetishize Breen and Wiseau’s body of work because we’re indoctrinated into believing their view of the world, we instead revel in their lack of whimsy, as they trudge into the room and unwittingly stomp on good taste like Godzilla let loose in downtown Tokyo.
Bad movies are like a height chart on a ride at a school fete that reads, “You must be this tall to enter” with the indicator only an inch off the ground. They often see themselves as high art, but in their failure we find a level of accessibility we as an audience can only dream of. If this is a cult, then it’s the least exclusive cult in the world.
For this reason, terrible movies can be enjoyed by everyone. It’s the foundation of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire career. Did you really think Commando was a GOOD movie? It’s a terrible movie that I’m 100% convinced started with a script that began with the line, “Let off some steam, Bennet” and they just worked backwards from there. And I was being generous with the comma there, here’s the actual scene. I’m assuming Arnie’s version was punctuation free. That’s the only way I can explain this delivery:
In saying this however, I would strap up my fists like Van Damme in Kickboxer and go to war for this movie. I love it.
Kickboxer, there you go, there’s another one.
And so, over the next few weeks I’m going to be reviewing each of Breen’s movies, beginning with his first foray into writing, directing and producing: Double Down. I want to introduce the world to the Learian madness in Breen’s unique mind and show movie going audiences that bad movies can be both enjoyable and loveable.
In 2017 I wrote an article on terrible movies called “In 2017 do we REALLY know what bad movies look like?” and to be honest my sentiments remain the same; these days we confuse quality and expectation. After Batman uttered the words “Martha”, movie goers were ready to start burning down cinemas, while they danced around in their underpants like Lord of the Flies and screamed for Zack Snyder’s head to be removed from his body and affixed to the top of a pike.
This was because there was a lot of expectation placed on the movie by the audience, an expectation that clearly wasn’t met. But what happens when there is NO expectation? What happens when you walk into a movie knowing nothing about any of the people involved in its production? Or even more likely in 2019, what happens when you sit down to watch a movie KNOWING it’s going to be terrible?
I’ll tell you what happens, you start to enjoy yourself.
Welcome to the world of Neil Breen. Welcome to Double Down. Let’s start the show.
Double Down: 007 this ain’t
I normally begin each of my movie reviews by wistfully going over the kind of things you can expect from the film in question. It’s a way to give the reader an idea of the ride they’re in for without having to give away too much in the way of spoilers. To continue that tradition however I’m going to have to start talking about things that on the surface will make absolutely no sense to you and will probably sound like I just grabbed a handful of adjectives from a random word generator and threw them onto the page.
Ahem, so here goes.
Double Down is part spy adventure, part cop drama, part action movie, part supernatural thriller, part tech demo all wrapped up in the neat bow of a tinned tuna advertisement.
Neil Breen stars as Aaron Brand, a former CIA operative turned hacker and global terrorist who turned to the dark side following the death of his fiancé at the hands of a secretive government organization that wanted to silence him because they feared his ability to “control government systems”. Phew. That’s a lot to take in.
But don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to take it all in because the first 8 minutes of the movie is pure exposition, with Breen’s character Brand explaining in voice-over that his hacking skills are so amazing that it scared the United States government so much they had to murder his bride to be.
How amazing of a hacker is he? I’ll let Brand explain: "I control access to anything and everything (those are the same things, Neil), even from my little, simple, brilliant setup". The simple and brilliant setup he’s referring to seems to involve a satellite TV dish he’s screwed onto the back of his mid 90’s Mercedes-Benz, a laptop, 5 mobile phones and a (clearly plastic) pistol he seems to periodically load and unload at regular intervals for absolutely no reason at all.
Did I mention he’s in the desert? Oh I didn’t. Yeah, he’s in the desert. In fact, the vast majority of this movie seems to have been filmed in a single location in front of a large rock formation. An easily identifiable rock formation in fact, so identifiable that you can clearly see it’s the same set of rocks even though he’s meant to be a vagabond type figure wandering through the desert on the run from men in black sent by his own government.
I should also clarify that it actually isn’t 8 minutes of pure exposition, it’s roughly around 6; the first 2 minutes of the movie appears to be a title sequence featuring stock footage of clouds, during which time we’re given only three titles: The movie title, Breen’s name as star, and a third title that tells us that the film was Written, Directed and Produced by Breen. This may not seem odd, but just think about that for a second. Two whole minutes of a movie is devoted to flashing up three titles on screen while the audience just stares at clouds. Go on, count that out, count to 120, and in that time just imagine that only three titles appear on screen.
1......2.......3........4.......5.......6.....only 114 more to go now.
This brings up the first interesting bugbear you’ll notice in Breen’s movies – odd editing choices. The movie is listed as being edited by both Breen himself and someone else called Haydon Lane. But I’m going to go ahead and assume that it’s actually Breen that puts on the captain’s hat and takes the helm when it comes to making final edit decisions. I say this because his next film “I am here....now” appears to be edited by someone other than Haydon Lane and yet still features the same bizarre editing that Double Down suffers from.
As an example, Double Down is peppered with strange cutaways to, what I’m assuming is meant to be relevant, stock footage. In one sequence Breen’s character is explaining how he has become disillusioned with all the “very dangerous wars going on” when suddenly the film cuts to wings of a plane mid flight and a scene where several radar operators are huddled around a complex looking control desk hitting switches.
Are we meant to assume these people are involved in the very dangerous wars? Or perhaps it’s something completely unrelated and maybe they’re tracking........him? I don’t know. It’s never explained.
In another instance Breen’s character is lamenting over America’s inability to fight by saying, “I support our troops but there’s no way for them to win a modern war”. While this is happening, the film suddenly jumps to what appears to be a 3D computer generated model of the surface of Mars.
From here everything just kind of goes downhill and doesn’t really move on. We learn that Brand is now a terrorist that is developing weapons in preparation for a huge attack on cities all over the world. For what purpose, I’m not sure. He seems to allude that he’s working on behalf of someone else and every now and then receives surreptitious phone calls from an unidentified antagonist; or is it? Again, I’m not sure, because at other points in the movie he seems to be in contact with his old bosses again at the CIA who want his help in tracking down a terrorist that is planning, quote, “Something bigger than 9/11”.
But isn’t HE the terrorist? Is this what the title Double Down (apparently a term used in cards) refers to? Is he playing everyone for a fool to accomplish his own agenda? I mean, if he is, I wish he would let us know what that agenda seems to entail. He spent the first 10 minutes of the movie driving exposition into us like a sadist with a sex toy and now when push comes to shove he’s so tight lipped his mouth could double as a frog’s butthole.
It’s like there’s something we’re meant to know, something important that we can only truly understand if we’re smart enough.
This of course brings us to the second bugbear you’ll notice in Breen’s movies – Breen has an agenda and he wants to drive it home so badly that it doesn’t matter if the integrity of his own screenwriting crumbles away like soggy weetbix.
His movies are littered with preachy dialogue. There’s no subtext, he treats his movies like pulpits and every time he squeezes himself into the director’s chair it’s like he is throwing on the clean robes of a clergyman as he prepares to address his flock. In this instance, Double Down appears to have been spared of the worst of Breen’s wrath, probably because as you watch his first foray into filmmaking it becomes very obvious that he legitimately set out to make a spy thriller. Unlike some of his other movies like Pass Thru or I am Here....now that exist solely to placate Breen’s desire to show the world he’s actually some kind of Christ-like dispenser of truth.
That isn’t to say his preachiness doesn’t get in the way of his own narrative. I’m pretty sure that Breen is trying to tell the audience about the shitty state of the American military and how the government often acts in its own self interests instead of the interests of the people they’re meant to protect.
But on several occasions the desire to drive home this message leads to some genuinely confusing moments: during a meeting with his old boss he’s asked if he could help them track down a dangerous terrorist that is planning to take down “The Las Vegas strip in one week” (is that how long it will take to destroy the strip? Or is that when the attack is happening?). After we learn this, Breen’s character goes on a several minute long diatribe about how governments need to stop focusing on nuclear weapons and start taking biological and chemical weapons more seriously.
Then, without discussing anything else, he just walks away. In fact the rant is so long that the dialogue is still going on in voice-over as the audience is shown a wide shot of Breen’s character walking off camera.
Did he accept the assignment or not? Was he even being GIVEN an assignment? I have no idea, because the movie then cuts to a full minute of some stock footage of Las Vegas at night before we’re then shown Breen’s character waking up on the ground the next morning beside his car.
He then gets a phone call and says, “I’ve just received your directions, the GPS directions” before immediately hanging up.
And this brings us to the paranormal element of the movie, something that Breen seems to weave into every single one of his films whether it’s warranted or not, usually via a subplot involving a mysterious stone with magical properties.
After hanging up the phone, Aaron Brand slowly wanders cautiously through the desert with his pistol drawn because, well, I don’t actually know. I’m assuming it’s possibly because he heard a noise or that he got spooked by something in the wilderness.
Here he meets an old man sitting on some rocks. After exclaiming that the old man “couldn’t be a terrorist” (again, I thought HE was the terrorist), Breen toddles off up the side of a cliff face and continues on his merry way.
For absolutely no reason at all, and I can’t stress that enough, the old man silently gets to his feet and attempts to follow Breen up the side of the steep rocky hill. In doing so, he slips and dies.
As he gurgles and moans, slipping away into the ever-after, Breen cradles the man in his arms as church-like religious singing rings out across the scene. Taking his last breath, he hands Breen a mysterious gray stone before his body slumps one final time and he finally dies.
What is the significance of this stone? I’m unsure, but for some reason Breen’s character now believes he has supernatural abilities and begins to flaunt those abilities by attempting to lay his hands on a child’s head to cure her brain cancer.
Seriously, what the fuck is going on in this movie?
By now you’re probably scrolling to the end of this article to see how much of it there is left to read and honestly I don’t blame you. There’s so much more to discuss, but as far as the movie is concerned it doesn’t really appear to crescendo or move on from this point. The only other noteworthy moment in this movie involves Breen’s character using a sex worker to distract someone as he injects him with a tranquilizer in the passenger seat of a Ferrari.
He then takes the unconscious man to his two CIA buddies and rips off the man’s disguise (a false beard and moustache). It’s at this point the two agents scream, “Holy shit! That’s him!”
WHO? WHO THE FUCK AM I LOOKING AT? NEIL, WHERE IS THIS FUCKING EXPOSITION WHEN WE NEED IT?
So how can we summarize Double Down? Well, it’s absolutely bonkers, just like all of Neil Breen’s catalogue. If you’ve got the time, take a look at a supercut of the movie that an anonymous kind soul has uploaded to YouTube; it’s a pretty great representation of what you can expect the first time you sit down to watch any of Breen’s movies:
Keep an eye out on the Tokyo 5 website for more Neil Breen updates; the next movie I’ll be attempting to review is 2009’s I am here....now, probably Breen’s worst movie – an overly preachy and terribly cast piece of garbage that tells the story of a robotic alien being that comes to Earth to punish evil doers and teach humanity how they can improve their lives through sustainable energy and the death of the bourgeois.
- Andrew Archer