In my review of filmmaker Neil Breen’s Fateful Findings, I commended the man for understanding story structure, at least more than Tommy Wiseau does. Having now seen his first film, Double Down, I realize that I may have been mistaken. While there are a few surprising storytelling techniques present in Fateful Findings, Breen definitely hasn’t been using them from the start. Let’s rewind to 2005, ten years ago, when the mulleted rogue directed his first feature film. I haven’t seen anything this vague and incomprehensible since After Last Season. If there is a story here, I’m not sure what the hell it’s supposed to be.
Ninety percent of all dialogue in the film is Breen’s narration over shots of him climbing on and around a rocky desert cliff. In fact, the first half hour of Double Down is entirely backstory and exposition. That’s a third of the movie! Everything Breen says in the voiceover is gratuitous and unclear. All that really needs to be established are the following facts: His character, Aaron, is the greatest secret agent the American government ever had. He is a computer wiz and can hack into any satellite system around the world. When the American government failed to protect the woman he loved, he abandoned his country and is now a freelance spy for hire who will work for anyone, even terrorists. He has most recently been hired by **even with thirty minutes of backstory, movie fails to say** to shut down the Las Vegas strip, for two months, for some reason. There… four sentences for me, half-hour of screen time for Breen. This didn’t need to take so long.
Then again, maybe it did. Because if not for the extraneous intro, we would have missed out on some incredible scenes. Like this one. It’s tough for a covert secret agent on the run. You have to live in your car, and all you are allowed to eat is tuna from a can.
Thanks for the crotch shot, Breen.
There’s also the unforgettable scene where the love of Aaron’s life, Megan (Laura Hale), is killed by a sniper. While the two of them are lounging in a pool, naked except for Megan’s thong, Aaron proposes to her. She happily accepts, only to be shot down moments later. So when Aaron claims in his narration that he was engaged, he fails to mention that it was for less than a minute. And of course, his reaction to her death is hysterical (NSFW clip ahead):
Since he’s a secret agent, I’m thinking maybe he overreacted outlandishly here in attempt to convince the sniper that the shot went through her and into him. That’s why he lies face-down in the pool next to her dead body, playing dead himself. Either that or he had some kind of weird orgasm when she died.
The opening narration also establishes Aaron’s keen ability to develop new and innovative technology that’s changing the spy game. His force shield makes him invisible, so he can keep his whereabouts hidden from potential attackers. While it does hide his body, the shield must have a limited range since his car and gear remain 100% visible. But then again, even if someone comes across his gear, the ‘force shield’ kills them for getting too close.
He’s like a five year old making up rules as he goes. ‘No you’re dead because I have an invisible shield that kills people!’
So when the plot finally does get going, it’s extremely unclear what is happening or why. All we are told for sure is that Aaron has been hired to shut down the Vegas strip. But what does that mean? Like, close the road for construction? He lays the groundwork of his mission when he meets some people in the most tactical location for a top-secret covert operation: a grocery store parking lot. As they discuss their incomprehensible plan, Aaron pretends not to notice while they put a bug on his car. Later, he takes the tracking device off. But who was tracking him and why? Were these the people who hired him to ‘shut down the strip’ for two months? Were they friends or enemies? What is going on?
The scene constantly cuts away to a woman with a camcorder. Where is she relative to the secret agents? What is she recording? Alas, answers are only for movies that make sense.
Another integral part of his mission requires him to kidnap two newlyweds and drug them. I bet Breen couldn’t even explain how kidnapping random citizens fits into the ‘shut-Vegas-down’ plan. So Aaron borrows a car by paying off a valet and drives it to a Vegas wedding chapel, where two newlywed couples greet him. Aaron takes one of the couples in his car, claiming to be their driver. Then he injects them with a paralysis drug, only to get a phone call moments later from… someone. Whoever is on the line lets Aaron know that he kidnapped the wrong couple. He was supposed to take the other two newlyweds from outside the chapel.
Fortunately, the mystery person on the phone knows exactly where the target couple went, so Aaron has no trouble finding them; they’re at ‘the beaches.’ That’s right, those two words, ‘the beaches,’ is somehow enough for Aaron to track them down. But by the time he gets there it’s too late since they both have committed a ‘suicide pact’. So much for their honeymoon I guess. It’s hard to care though, since the couple’s importance to the overall plot is never given proper context. He was supposed to kidnap and drug them, for some reason, but they slipped through his fingers. But there are no consequences for his failure.
Near the end of the movie, Aaron changes his mind about the attack he’s been planning. He drops to his knees in the desert and screams allegiance to America. He loves his country and he simply can’t betray it. So all bets or off, and now he has to undo all his wrongs and stop the attack before it’s too late.
It’s clear from watching this film that Breen likes to recycle stories from one project to the next. The idea of a small stone with magical powers seems to fascinate the guy. Breen used this concept in this film as well as his 2013 masterpiece, Fateful Findings. In Double Down, Aaron is given a magic rock by a crazy old homeless man with a head injury. Aaron immediately assumes the rock has magical powers; that he can use it to heal a little girl’s brain cancer. He touches the girl’s head while holding the stone, and he’s convinced that this cures her. When he later learns that she died, he still keeps the rock close at hand because he refuses to believe it’s not magic.
I love the framing here, because I don’t have to see Neil’s whole face.
Double Down and Fateful Findings both share an attempt at being pretentious, art house cinema. Throughout the film he speaks to his dead fiancee, who constantly reappears at the top of the desert mountain he takes solace on. She often gives him advice and reassurance. They interact together as if she is really there, even though she is dead. Aaron also sees the ghosts of his parents early in the film, they tell him they are both happily dead, and then they never make another appearance for the rest of the film. I think Aaron may be a crazy person. Or on acid.
Maybe it’s like Fight Club… Aaron and the old homeless man are the same person. And I am Jack’s exhausted moviegoer.
There’s also a recurring scene in both films where the main character loses the love of his life, a girl he has known since he was only 8 years old. It’s an oddly specific choice. I suspect that in real life, Breen’s only romantic relationship took place when he was around this age, and to this day he hasn’t gotten over it. Why else would he keep bringing the subject up in every film?
And just like Dylan in Fateful Findings, the Aaron character majored in computer science. We get even more scenes where Breen types on multiple laptops at once, none of which are ever turned on. I mean seriously, does the guy run some kind of black market laptop repo business? Why does he have so many ancient laptops lying around? And why doesn’t he at least turn on the ones facing the camera!?
The computer business is too competitive.
I’ve also deduced that Neil Breen owns both a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari, since both cars are featured prominently in his first and third films. In this film he steals the Ferrari from a dealership, pointing out how easy it is to do so with electronic locks and digital ignition system.
I guess he didn’t need to know how to steal it though, since he had the freakin’ key.
The film ends with the metaphor that Aaron is finally learning to let go of his dead fiance, his childhood love… I think. As he drives off in his car, a young boy is seated in the passenger seat next to him. Aaron swallows his pride, and the child vanishes from the car. As a representation of his inner child, the young boy reappears on the road behind him, shrinking smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror as Aaron leaves his past behind.
Overall, this film is absolute nonsense. Watching Double Down is a much more daunting task than screening Fateful Findings. There’s still lots to laugh at in this film, but it is a lot more difficult to sit through because it’s so much slower and even more disjointed. A ‘scene’ in this film is more of an arbitrary, abstract concept than a means of moving the plot forward.
Breen definitely has come along way though; there’s a big difference in quality from Double Down to Fateful Findings. I’m really curious to see what the middle film, I Am Here…. Now, has in store for me.
What’s most humbling about Breen though, is the way he willingly showcase his incompetence.
That’s right, I didn’t use lighting, and I want you to KNOW IT!
Double Down (2005)