It’s unclear why Netflix chose to grab and drop Brazen in its January line-up, but we can probably assume that any murder-mystery movie that gets wrapped up in a neat bow around the 90 minute mark will do just fine for any streaming service’s content-hungry subscribers right now as long as it looks vaguely entertaining. I’m one of them, and absolutely part of the problem, so even if I hadn’t stuck Brazen on purely to write this review, I would have definitely chosen to watch it of my own free will. But sweet baby Jesus and the orphans do I wish I hadn’t.
Based on Nora Roberts’ 1988 pulp novel Brazen Virtue, Netflix’s distinctly made for TV-flavored movie adaptation stars Alyssa Milano (Charmed) as murder-mystery writer Grace Miller, who naturally has a self-proclaimed knack for being able to get “inside the mind of a killer.” When her fragile sister Kathleen – a beloved teacher at a prestigious school – is brutally murdered while Grace is next door flirting with local detective Ed (The Bold Type’s Sam Page), she decides that the only way the police are going to catch the person whodunnit is if she dollops a large spoonful of lurid novel-writing knowledge all over their investigative salad.
Anyone who’s sat through an episode of the Nathan Fillion-starring procedural TV series Castle will feel distinctly at home here, as ABC delivered eight seasons of that “best-selling mystery novelist helps the cops solve crimes” format from 2009-2016, but most procedurals fit the mold adequately enough as Grace and co. set about revisiting the scene of the crime, following clues, and questioning their suspects, with Milano occasionally narrowing her eyes at a potential breakthrough and uttering the most obvious and cringeworthy dialog possible, to the point where unintentional laughs are very much on the menu.
Upon discovering that her sister was also helping to fund a forthcoming custody battle by camgirling as a dominatrix called Desiree, Grace and the police are then ready to start pursuing a serial killer when another of her fellow dominatrix camgirls falls prey to her sister’s murderer, and from thereon in we’re deep in the procedural formula until Grace concludes that she must become the ultimate bait by hoisting her large chest into a shiny latex outfit and cracking a whip at a webcam. Your mileage may vary depending on how desperate you are to see this happen, but due to the Lifetime Movie-esque nature of Brazen I can assure you that this transformation isn’t enough to shock a vicar.
We get to meet a handful of potential murderers as Grace and Ed look into Kathleen’s demise. Perhaps Kathleen’s ruthless, well-connected husband is behind it all? Or could it be someone who works at the cam site where Kathleen told her customers how naughty there were? Maybe it was someone at her day job that recognized Kathleen and became unhealthily obsessed with her?
You’ll probably sit through enough of the movie to find out, but it certainly won’t be down to the unremarkable direction, script or performances. It will be for the same reason you sit through any run-of-the-mill procedural nonsense when that’s the only thing that will scratch a lazy itch and, if nothing else, Brazen is just about enough background noise to be fit for purpose.
Even if you’re an enthusiastic fan of procedural fare, anything that could lift Brazen to the ranks of a standard two-parter of Castle or its ilk is noticeably absent here. It isn’t charming or funny, and there is precious little onscreen chemistry between Milano and Page to have you rooting for them as a burgeoning couple. Meanwhile, Billions star Malachi Weir, who is exuding more screen presence than anyone else in the movie put together, is thoroughly wasted as Ed’s exhausted partner Ben.
The most you’re going to get out of this toothless, sex worker-exploiting nonsense will be a bad taste in your mouth from the glossiness of how it treats its subject matter, though I can imagine a lot of people hitting play on Brazen after scrolling through Netflix’s latest random offerings.
Hell, it’ll probably do really well for them. We might even get a string of sequels following Grace as she imparts the kind of psychological tidbits any one of us could dish up on a given day with the barest possible knowledge of murder-mystery plots. Will I watch them? Absolutely. Will I wish I hadn’t? Absolutely.
Brazen is streaming on Netflix now.