My Brothers Keeper (2004)

That familiar scene of the college freshman meeting his zany new roommate, who ends up becoming an unlikely ally. That familiarly droll, eccentric professor droning on while that hot girl in class, who is familiarly more sexually experienced than the girls from back home, flirts across the classroom. The familiar good guys who show the freshman the ropes, and those familiar rich bullies who taunt the freshman. Those familiar woes of not measuring up and not fitting in that turn into personal growth as the freshman finds his niche, at the familiar expense of his friends back home who just wish things could be the way they were.

College has never looked so…familiar.

Indeed, there is not a single original idea in My Brothers Keeper. Each scenario, character, and line of dialogue is derived from an already copious stock of teen melodramas. Its bland themes, that friendship is more important than money, and that it’s more important to be nice than to win, are lazy fronts for the escapist fantasy of college as a place full of glamorous parties and easy girls targeted at young viewers. The narrative follows a tell-don’t-show model as the voice-over describes not only the onscreen ‘action’, but also the personalities of the characters, who are all remarkably generic.

My Brothers Keeper relies most on two clichés, the teen identity switch, and the underdogs competing with rich jerks at a sports contest (yawn). It’s The Parent Trap meets Breaking Away meets Freaky Friday meets The Karate Kid. Meets what else? Dawson’s Creek.

It’s about twin brothers (both played by Aaron Ashmore) with opposite personalities — one likes to party and the other likes to study — who share success on the high school rowing team. The twins are so boringly handsome and perky that I didn’t realize they were supposed to be poor until one of them delivered the unintentionally hilarious line, “Dude, we are not white trash!” They live in an industrial town where the only options seem to be a full athletic scholarship or a lifetime of double shifts at the local factory (financial aid, anyone?) Add a floozy, absent single mom, a lovable stoner friend and a wholesome, ambitious girlfriend who scores an internship in the big city, and the cliché is complete.

When hard-partying twin Lou wins a full ride to fictional Oak Ridge College and studious Eric gets passed over, they switch identities. At first things are fine, as Lou feels glad to help and Eric adjusts to college life. But Oak Ridge is only fun if you’ve got money, and the pressure catches up to Eric. He lies to his brother, telling him he needs a computer, and borrows thousands of dollars Lou has been saving from his factory job. Eric blows it all on a fancy car to impress his rich girlfriend, and when Lou finds out, they have a falling out. So Lou decides to polish his A-game and defeat his brother at the National Rowing Championships, that is, if his make-do rowing partner with no skills but a huge heart can withstand the rigorous training montage.

Eric drifts further into temptation and learns just how empty and greedy the rich kids really are, and that his hot girlfriend is using him. She’s sexually aggressive and scrupulous, and seems to inspire most of Eric’s bad behavior. When his mean, scary coach tries to force him to take steroids, she says they “aren’t drugs, but a vaccine against losing”. (Possibly the only intentionally funny line that works.) When it’s clear that he’s really only a visitor to the dark side, she dumps him for a truly bad boy. And once the tempest is dispatched, Eric returns to his senses, and to brotherly love.

Aaron Ashmore’s limited acting abilities keep him from bringing one character to life, let alone two distinct ones, so the twins never convincingly differentiate. You have to watch actively to keep track of who is who. If you drift for a moment (easy enough to do with something as pat as this), it can get confusing. It’s unintentionally surreal how it can seem like the same person is living two parallel lives that occasionally merge. The only surprising thing about My Brother’s Keeper is how it’s updated the limits of illicit behavior in a teen drama, with surprisingly vulgar sex references and onscreen pot smoking. These are only peripheral details though; you can rely on the twins to keep it clean.

Extras include: Storyboard of selected scenes, interview with director Jordan Barker and producer Jeff Deverett, music video from the Pylons, Theatrical trailer (yawn).

RATING 3 / 10