Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

You knew it was coming sooner or later, and here it is: Escape From New York, the poster child for bad movies and now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s by science fiction writer John Carpenter, and  it stars Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a hard-boiled former special forces guy turned bad and now headed for the slam. This came out in 1981 through AVCO Embassy Pictures. I will give just a few highlights.

It’s the bad new days, and America’s crime rate has soared 400%. The government response is naturally to construct a bigger stalag to hold them. They have chosen Manhattan Island, making viewers wonder why the idea took this long. The rule is, you go in, you never come out. The opposite shorelines are walled off and manned with guards carrying furious firepower. We see an escape attempt by boat thwarted through the use of air-to-ground missiles.

Snake is being prepped to enter the land of lost and forgotten men (and women).

But wait! Drama develops. The President’s plane is hijacked and flown into a Manhattan skyscraper. Remember,  you saw this plot device first here. Before impact the president, with a mysterious valise chained to his wrist, is ejected inside an escape pod, and the prisoners capture him alive.

Well, the government has to get him back, because in 24 hours he will participate in a conference that will save the world from nuclear annihilation, and the critical item is an audio tape the President carries inside the valise.

Snake lands a glider atop on of the World Trade Center towers and makes his way to the street below, where it’s Mad Max on steroids, which answers the question of whether this scene was stolen from Mel Gibson, or was it the other way around. It turns out that Gibson’s dystopic setting came later, in 1985, and so was possibly inspired by Escape. The two films share other plot devices.

Of course, Snake does not immediately confront the President’s captors and hustle him back to the land of the midnight nuclear attack. There has to be some excitement first. And there is. Snake runs into a litany of prior acquaintances, who persistently ask upon spying his face, “I thought you were dead.”

Possibly Mad Max producers got a load of their ideas from this movie. Here Snake is compelled to defeat the reigning ruffian in a gladiator fight to the death before a screaming mob of social outcasts.

But he wins the fight, rescues the President, and, with the help of others, including a cab driver played by Ernest Borgnine. He escapes across the heavily-mined 69th Street Bridge (originally designed for railroad traffic) and delivers the President and the tape, which was so desperately needed to save the world. The man, now cleaned up and re-suited, stands before the TV cameras and delivers his presentation. And he plays the tape. But Snake has substituted the right tape for one he found inside the escape cab, and the man can only stand and grimace as “Bandstand Boogie” belts out to his audience.

No bad deed ever goes unrewarded and Escape from L.A. came out in 1996, the year prior to the setting of this movie and with Russell again playing the role of escape artist.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I’m celebrating 20th anniversaries, and here is another from 1997. I first caught it on broadcast TV many years back, and a noticeable difference is they cleaned up the language for home viewing. The movie features a bunch of tough-talking truckers and situations of intense emotion. It’s Breakdown, from Paramount Pictures and featuring Kurt Russell as ordinary guy Jeff Taylor, caught in critical circumstances. It’s a fairly well written and produced film, so there is not much to complain about, except for obvious plot contrivances. As I  write this, Breakout is streaming on Amazon Prime video where I go when I am desperate for a bad or not so good movie to review. Details are from Wikipedia.

Jeff and his sweet wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are on a drive from Boston to San Diego in their new Jeep 4X4. A bit of preamble: Jeff has a close encounter with roughneck Earl (M. C. Gainey), then at a fuel stop a bit later it gets face-to-face. The reason this is important is that shortly after Jeff and Amy get out on the road the Jeep stops completely. Complete electrical failure, apparently. Earl comes by in his pickup truck but does not stop. Except, he drives a bit down the road, turns around, stops for a while, then keeps on going. Things are getting suspicious. Next a semi rig stops, and the driver, Warren “Red” Barr (J. T. Walsh) offers advice and help. He will drive them to Belle’s Diner, where they can call for a tow truck.

Critical here is that Jeff elects to stay with the Jeep, and Amy hitches a ride with Red. It’s the last we see of Amy until the end of the movie.

Yeah, Jeff discovers the Jeep’s problem is a loose electrical connector, and he fixes that. But when he gets to Belle’s Diner, Amy is nowhere to be found. Red did not stop at Belles. Things are getting mighty suspicious.

The local police are no help. Jeff catches Red’s truck out on the highway and forces Red to stop. The sheriff comes by about then, and Jeff explains the matter. Red denies ever having seen the Taylors before. Jeff can’t get any additional help from the local police, so he backtracks. Outside Belle’s, an apparent retard named Billy (Jack Noseworthy) advises Jeff that he knows what’s going on, and he instructs Jeff to head off along a specific road.

Jeff follows that advice and runs straight into a trap. The road is blocked by a locked gate, and Earl drives up from behind in his truck. Earl is loaded for war.

Jeff guns it out of there, crashes the gate, and takes the Jeep into  the river. Gunfire from the cliff above follows him.

The upshot is Jeff is captured by what is obviously a band of kidnappers. He is ordered, if he wishes to save his life, the recite the exact sum in his bank account, which sum Red tells him Amy has already told them. Jeff survives to live another day by remembering an earlier conversation he had with Amy about a $90,000 prize offered by a donut company. $90,000 is the magic number, and the crooks order Jeff to go into the town of Brackett (down below) and have the bank wire the $90,000 to Jeff, in cash.

But the Taylors never had $90,000 in the bank. It was just small talk. Jeff stalls and withdraws $5000 and bulks it up to look like more. Outside town, Earl stops his truck beside the  road and orders Jeff and the money inside. But Jeff has prepared for this, and he defeats Earl in hand-to-hand combat. Binding him with duct tape and taking his gun. Wouldn’t you believe it, about then the sheriff comes by. But the situation turns out badly for Jeff.

Since Jeff is the one with the gun, the sheriff draws down on him. Meanwhile, Earl gets himself free and pulls his spare gun. He shoots the sheriff and goes after Jeff. But the sheriff has one last shot in himself, and he kills Earl. The sheriff is dying, and the police are alerted. Jeff starts out on the quest to meet up with Red at the place Earl coughed up after being punched vigorously about the face and body.

Jeff spots Red’s rig at the truck stop and hitches a ride as it pulls out. In a great feat of daring-do he works his way along the side of the moving truck and finds a place to hide between the tractor and the trailer. He spends the night there as Red drives back to the family spread, where the kidnappers have their base of operations. Apparently this has been an ongoing family business for a number of years.

By then it’s dark and getting to be time for breakfast. Jeff watches from hiding as a bobtail truck drives up, and the robbers extract Amy, still alive and kicking. But they place her into a freezer chest beneath the floor of a shed and head in to breakfast. Jeff can’t break the lock to the cellar beneath the shed but he finds a pistol in the truck cab and enters the house, ready to confront the kidnappers.

There is a minor exchange of gunfire, and Jeff comes out on top, freeing Amy from the freezer and locking the kidnappers in the cellar. All but one, who escaped out the house when the shooting started.

Jeff and Amy steal a truck and make their getaway, and here comes the interesting part of the movie. The kidnappers give chase in  two cars and the semi rig. There is a running gunfight along a stretch of desert highway.

One after another, two of the kidnappers meet tragic ends. One rolls his car, which is consumed by flames.

The big rig trailer breaks loose and takes out the other car.

The cab of the big rig crashes through a bridge railing and hangs above an eye-popping drop. I forget how Jeff came to be on top of the cab, but he climbs hand over hand toward safety. Red, from atop the cab, attempts to finish off Jeff with a length of chain, but Jeff grabs the chain and pulls. Red plunges off the cab and lands on the rocks below.

Jeff and Amy notice that there is still some movement in Red’s body, so Jeff puts the tractor transmission into neutral, and the whole business lands on top of Red. They admire their handiwork from the bridge.

Of course, that is some wild adventure, and it is way too much to be believed. Stretch your credulity a lot, and this can be an enjoyable movie.

Lots of people killed, no nudity, no gentle, romantic scenes. Just some hair-raising adventure. This was written by Jonathan Mostow, who also directed. Producers were Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis. It runs for 93 minutes. Just about right. It made $50.2 million with a production  cost of $36 million. Location shooting was in the desert Southwest, including Moab, Utah, and Sedona, Arizona. A map shown in the title sequence shows U.S. 60 crossing IH-15, but I was unable to find such a place.