Reasonably Intriguing Escape a Prisoner of its Own Shortcomings
Seconds after getting fired by the Sheriff (Ron Perlman) for ineptitude, small town deputies Jim Doyle (Martin Starr) and Thurman Hayford (Jake McDorman) receive a phone call from the local prison warden (Ralph Cashen) that prisoner 614 (George Sample III) has escaped and is thought to be hiding somewhere in their jurisdiction. They immediately set out into the secluded forest surrounding their little mountain community to capture him, thinking that if they do so the Sheriff will be so impressed he’ll have to give them back their jobs. But once they catch up with prisoner 614, Doyle and Hayford aren’t so sure they’re doing the right thing, and as the trio make their way back to town it becomes clear he’s an innocent man railroaded into prison thanks to the color of his skin.
I got the feeling while watching the handsomely mounted, if awkwardly titled, The Escape of Prisoner 614 that this odd, rather unfocused comedy/western/social commentary throwback was a labor of love for writer/director Zach Golden. Impressively cast and made on a minimal budget, it’s easy to tell all involved were giving everything they had in order to help the filmmaker’s feature-length debut meet with success. Additionally, the film’s lovely Catskill Mountains vistas are magnetically shot by cinematographer Adam Lee, these images casting a picturesque spell I found beguiling.
But as far as compliments go, that’s about all I’ve got. Golden never manufactures anything approaching a consistent tone, and the story’s 1960s era trappings are so vague and nondescript I couldn’t help but wonder why the director seemed so intent on trying to establish them. While Starr and McDorman have a relaxed, almost brotherly chemistry that feels genuine, the personas they establish and the dialogue they’re forced to utter is too mannered, modern, stilted and stagy to come moderately close to feeling the same. Their jokes fall continually flat, while any scene calling for even a modicum of dramatic heft is obnoxiously unimpressive, Doyle and Hayford such massive nincompoops spending time with them becomes increasingly difficult as things progress.
The determination fueling it all is still undeniable, and I admit the scenes bookending the film got me to audibly chuckle, as did a restaurant sequence where the Sheriff gruffly explains to a hesitantly shell-shocked waitress exactly what he means when he says he wants his baked potato “loaded.” There’s also a bizarre scene where Doyle and Hayford stumble upon a cadre of hunters and trick them out of their rifles, the absurdity of the moment strangely amusing even if it does feel more like some absurdly moronic “Saturday Night Live” sketch than it does an organic part of this particular story.
I do feel like Golden has something. He’s certainly ambitious, and while his debut has its fair share of problems, and I’m understating the situation considerably as far as that statement is concerned, the director still showcases a level of confidence in regards to pacing and performance that is intriguing as far as his future prospects are concerned. Not to say any of this is enough to make The Escape of Prisoner 614 worthwhile, not even the determined gravitas a suitably gruff Perlman brings to the table could make that be the case, but it does make Golden a young talent worth keeping an eye on. As far as positives go, however, that sadly might be it.
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)