“Sentenced to 28 years in prison for a crime he never committed. Only two things can get him out – A lot of money and Charles Bronson!”
Director: Tom Gries
Cast: Charles Bronson, Robert Duvall, Jill Ireland
Synopsis: A bush pilot is hired for $50,000 to go to Mexico to free an innocent prisoner.
“Rape…” laments a still saucy forty-something Sheree North (Maniac Cop) after her amorous advances have been rejected, “I should be so lucky!” Yes, indeedy, we’ve returned to the wonderful world of 1970s crime movies; a world in which most women secretly yearned to be sexually abused by a sweaty man in a funny hat, and in which men were shot, not just in slow motion but in sequential freeze frames so that it literally seems to take them forever to die.
The man dying by instalments is some unnamed prisoner who thought he’d just bought his way to freedom but found himself shot in the back with no more than twenty paces between him and the prison wagon from which he’d just been released. The man forced to kill him is Sosa (Jorge Moreno), a fellow prisoner, who will soon become cell-mate to Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall — The Godfather, The Godfather Part II). Wagner is a wealthy man framed for a crime by his megalomaniac billionaire grandfather (John Huston, trading shamelessly on his role the previous year as Jonah Cross in Chinatown) simply because he’s been causing some unspecified trouble which has been winding up some vaguely menacing CIA agent. If I’m a little vague on detail, that’s because the screenplay by Howard B. Kreitsek, Marc Norman and Elliott Baker is equally thin on back story which, although a little surprising given that Breakout is based on fact, serves to show that the movie isn’t the slightest bit concerned about how it gets Wagner into a scummy Mexican prison — it just wants to have fun showing bush pilot Nick Colton (Charles Bronson — A Thunder of Drums, The White Buffalo) trying to get him out.
Colton is hired to spring Wagner by the man’s wife, Ann (Jill Ireland — The Mechanic, The White Buffalo), even though she neglects to inform him that he’s agreeing to take place in a prison breakout until after they’ve both had shots fired at them by the guards keeping an eye on the prison detail of which Wagner is a member. As plans go, it’s fairly hopeless, and you can’t blame Colton for being a little sore when he and Ann get back to the States. A second — equally daft — attempt, for which Colton persuades his chief mechanic Hawk Hawkins (Randy Quaid — The Last Picture Show) to dress up as a Mexican prostitute paying Wagner a conjugal visit, goes awry when Hawkins arrives in Wagner’s cell to find one of the guard’s waiting for him. It’s at this point, after Hawkins has received a severe beating, that Colton grows a little suspicious of Ann’s motives for springing her husband, but his doubts are quickly allayed when she turns on the waterworks, and he’s soon hatching a third hare-brained scheme to get her hubby out of prison before sickness does him in.
Breakout is a whole lot more fun than it really deserves to be, thanks to a fast-moving plot, a typical 1970s disregard for political correctness or subtlety, and the reliable presence of Charles Bronson. On the down side, as he so often did back in the 1970s, Bronson cast Ireland, who was his wife at the time, to star opposite him. Ireland’s acting is truly something terrible to behold, with even the simplest of tasks proving to be beyond her limited talents. In fact, the only time Ireland manages to portray any emotion convincingly is the brief moment when she reaches for the door handle of her car, and realises with a shock just how hot they can get after being parked in the desert sun for a while.
The movie is so preoccupied with Colton’s attempts to free Wagner that not only can it not be bothered to provide us with a convincing reason for him being there in the first place, it doesn’t even worry about punishing the bad guy who put him there, with Huston’s nasty Granddad facing no kind of retribution whatsoever for the way he treated his Grandson. It also asks us to believe that Ann possesses no photograph to give to Colton so that he can identify exactly who it is he’s supposed to be rescuing, suggesting that there’s no point because his time inside has changed his appearance, even though he looks no different — just a little grubbier — than in the opening scenes before he was imprisoned.
But, you know what? Who cares! Breakout is entertaining in the lowest way it can be without becoming crude or totally stupid. It has sweaty Mexican prison guards with droopy moustaches and flabby faces. It has a staged rape taking place in full daylight in a convertible car parked outside a prison. It has men falling from helicopters, and others being buried alive. It even has one luckless chap being shredded by the rotor blades of a taxiing airplane a full five years before the same thing happened in Raiders of the Lost Ark — but unlike that wussy flick, Breakout doesn’t flinch from showing us exactly what happens when a human being comes into contact with a bulky piece of rapidly rotating machinery! I ask you — how could anyone not enjoy a film that has all this?
(Reviewed 25th February 2014)