In Bushwick’s opening minutes grad-student Lucy (Brittany Snow) has her boyfriend die in an explosion and finds herself in the middle of a war zone on the streets of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighbourhood. An unidentified military force is indiscriminately massacring the residents of Bushwick and causing chaos on the streets. It’s a heart-pounding start to Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s gritty B-movie which offers impressively staged action and an intriguing premise, but is let down by uninspired dialogue and underdeveloped characters.

After Lucy initially emerges onto the besieged streets of Bushwick, she quickly meets ex-Marine Stupe (Dave Bautista) who claims to be on course to Hoboken, New Jersey to reconcile with his wife and children. While initially hesitant to partner up with Lucy, Stupe soon takes her under his wing when she cauterizes his knife wound. When the pair meet up with Lucy’s stoner sister Belinda (Angelic Zambrana) and capture one of the black-clad soldiers the truth behind the attacks is revealed. The soldiers are from multiple southern states and are trying to force the government to grant a multi-state secession by taking control of Bushwick – they believe the neighbourhood’s multiculturalism makes it a particularly easy target.

Firstly, Bushwick’s action sequences are a whole lot of fun. Playing out in near-real-time, Milott and Murnion employ smooth single take tracking shots which adroitly capture the carnage and violence on the streets of Bushwick. The sound design is also brilliantly handled as a cacophony of gunfire, explosions and helicopters accompanies Aesop Rock’s dynamic score. Altogether, the action and sound design combine to create an effectively chaotic, visceral backdrop – if only the characterisations were bought to life as vividly.

BushwickBoth Bautista and Snow put in solid enough performances but they are given very little to work with. Bautista is lumbered with a generic action man role whereas Snow struggles with a thankless damsel-in-distress part. Her eventual transformation into a hardened street warrior, which takes place over the course of just one afternoon, stretches credibility to a wince-inducing level. Neither characters are aided by the thankless dialogue which too frequently vocalises emotions which could be conveyed more subtly. Despite this, the pair still manage to bring an easy chemistry to their relationship and an emotional third act reveal makes for a nice character moment between the two.

At times Milott and Murnion’s ambition is clearly afflicted by budget constraints and there’s some pretty ropy CGI fire effects. But the film is buoyed by a narrative which has taken on an increasingly relevant dimension with recent political events. Bushwick’s civil war premise provides a provocative and compelling vision of where an increasingly divided America could potentially be heading.

Although it suffers from lacklustre dialogue and weak characterisations, Bushwick gets by on the back of its excitedly staged set pieces, atmospheric use of sound and politically-charged premise.