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Netflix’s Brazen Is a Useful Insight into the Service’s Big Picture Goals

Let’s get the easy part out of the way. Brazen is not a good movie.

Adapted from the Nora Roberts novel “Brazen Virtue,” the film tells the tale of a murder mystery writer, who also happens to be a world class criminal profiler, dragged into the lurid world of online sex work when her cam girl sister is murdered. The execution is, unsurprisingly, neither as bleakly nihilistic as the material could warrant nor as sudsy and fun as it might have been if taken in a more ludicrous direction. The films attempts to balance a tone of genuine tragedy and loss with a plot that culminates in the film’s author-heroine (Alyssa Milano, The WB’s Charmed, Pathology) going undercover as an online sex worker to lure out the serial killer that murdered her sister. Alas, the balancing act topples and leaves the film feeling all over the place.

The story, of course, features a love interest who is, naturally, the detective in charge of the murder investigation played by a likable Sam Page (AMC’s Mad Men, Netflix’s House of Cards). While Milano plays everything very straight, Page has far more energy and self-awareness in his performance. The film’s best scenes see Page and his police partner (Malachi Weir, Showtime’s Billions) banter about Page’s budding romance with their star consultant. Page and Weir have an easy, lived-in chemistry that gives the sense of old friends. Weir, the closest thing the film has to comic relief, enlivens each of his scenes; his quick eye rolls and glib asides gives the movie its most lively, funny, and self-aware movements.

[I had the chance to speak with Malachi Weir about the film. A Conversation with Malachi Weir on Netflix’s Brazen]

Positives aside, I can’t recommend the movie in any sort of serious way. That said, it does feel like Netflix is really honing in on nailing the tone of a classic trashy Lifetime movie. The stars are a little more well known. The production values are a little stronger. The writing is, well, still like a Lifetime movie. And it is clear to me there has been and always will be a significant market for these sorts of stories.

While I don’t think Brazen is “good,” I’ll happily admit my wife and I watched the film alongside a few glasses of wine and had a few pleasant laughs (though perhaps more at the film than with it). While I had to quell the shrieks of my critic’s brain through a few sequences, this sort of pablum has long had a market. Obviously, the entertainment universe has shifted massively in the last few years with COVID expediting so many changes that were already knocking at the door. The primacy of IP blockbusters in theaters and the television diaspora caused by streaming and on-demand everything have run roughshod over some genres that have historically been viable. Netflix has found success revitalizing classic genres that are no longer quite so viable in the current marketplace. As Netflix successfully resurrected classic romantic comedies and cornered the market on holiday movies, it’s not surprising to see them move their focus to the chaste sex thrillers that kept Lifetime successful for decades. They’re low budget, low risk, easy to produce, and likely to be fairly popular. You don’t win an Emmy or an Oscar with Brazen, but you will increase engagement with a certain sort of viewer.

This has all been a long way of saying that I actually think Brazen achieves its mission. Nobody involved here appears to be trying to tell a Fincher-esque serial killer movie. Nobody here appears to be trying to elevate the trashy thriller genre like the wonderfully glib A Simple Favor from a few years back. It feels like everyone is attempting, quite exactingly, to emulate and recreate the Lifetime formula and to that goal, the film is a success. The open question, dear reader, is if hitting that low mark is something you will enjoy watching.

Brazen is out on Netflix worldwide today.