Breakout (1975) Review

Director: Tom Gries

Genre(s): Adventure, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

According to the IMDb Trivia page for the prison-escape thriller Breakout, it was the first motion picture from a major studio whose release was accompanied by “the now-common saturation pattern.” This apparently means that the film opened in over a thousand American theaters simultaneously, while being backed by a barrage of 17,000 radio advertisements. All of this was in the service of a movie about a pilot named Nick Colton (Charles Bronson) who’s hired to rescue an innocent man – Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) – from a Mexican fortress-prison.

This is actually a pretty lighthearted role for Charles Bronson, who has his wife Jill Ireland (playing Ann Wagner) co-star with him. His scenes are often pretty comedic and adventurous, meaning that he’s not scowling as much as he usually does. That being said, the light and dark elements don’t always completely mesh here (the oft-serious scenes involving Robert Duvall’s character sometimes feel like something out of a different movie).

Breakout probably doesn’t have as much action as you might expect from a Bronson flick from this time period, but that’s okay. There are a few moments of impressive stuntwork here. I mean, is Bronson actually helping fly that helicopter? It doesn’t look like phony-baloney rear projection to me. Another stunt that springs to mind is the one where a jeep overturns and bursts into flames, with stuntpeople barely missing the fire.

This is not top-tier Bronson right here (the actor takes a while to actually make his first appearance), but it’s watchable fluff. There are some minor pacing issues and it’s not exactly an action extravaganza, yet seeing Bronson play a less-melancholic-than-usual role might be worth the admission price for many. This is, believe it or not, just one of two films released in 1975 to be directed by Tom Gries, star Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland, and have its title begin with “Break.” The other is Breakheart Pass (1975).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Devil (2010) Review

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Genre(s): Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 80 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

M. Night Shyamalan, known for his twisty thrillers, didn’t direct Devil, but he did come up with the story and also co-produced it. The movie’s story is about five strangers who find themselves trapped together on an elevator in a Philadelphia skyscraper…and somebody’s killing them off one-by-one. This flick gets figurative points for its interesting premise, but its execution is only so-so.

Devil largely revolves around the five distinct characters in the broken elevator, which makes the film feel appropriately claustrophobic. That being said, a significant part of the runtime takes place outside of the lift, with security guards and first responders trying to unjam the elevator and figure out just who the murderer is. This gives the feature a light whodunnit quality, even if the focus is primarily on the scares.

The resolution of the mystery at the heart of Devil is perhaps the weakest part of the picture. I wouldn’t really describe it as “unsatisfying,” but it does come across as a bit hokey. The movie veers a little out of control at times, and you may need to stifle a laugh or two at something that wasn’t intended to be comical. However, I do enjoy unintentional humor, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.

Devil wraps up in less than an hour-and-a-half, so, even if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t be out too many minutes of your time. I’ll give the flick credit for its creative ideas and fine pacing, but it does feel borderline-tacky at times. In the end, I don’t really say “watch it” or “avoid it;” just know that it can be a little silly.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Another 48 Hrs. (1990) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte return for more in this so-so sequel to 48 Hrs. (1982). Once again, tough guy cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) recruits the help of conman Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to help him on a case. This time, the police officer wants to take down a mysterious drug lord known as “The Iceman” as well as clear his own name after being accused of killing an unarmed man.

The plot of Another 48 Hrs. feels rather formless, which is the biggest problem with the film. In retrospect, it just seems like our dynamic duo are chasing various leads until the final shootout arrives. Sure, Nolte and Murphy do no wrong here, but the plot needed a little more meat on it. Oh well, at least the adequate pacing and relatively short runtime keep this flaw from being fatal.

The action scenes here are actually better than the ones in the first installment of this motion picture duology. They’re definitely not top-tier, but they are filmed and edited in a more coherent fashion than in 48 Hrs. This picture is somewhat famous for the amount of glass that gets smashed in it and, yeah, panes of that stuff are being broken left and right. I guess it adds to the fun of the whole experience.

Another 48 Hrs. features less racist and homophobic dialogue than the original, which may make it easier to watch for modern audiences. It’s also less grimy- and gritty-feeling, but – hey – if that’s the cost of superior action set-pieces, I’ll pay it. Okay, the bottom line is that this one isn’t quite as good as the 1982 flick, but it certainly is watchable.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Sea Hawk (1940) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Adventure, Romance

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1940 anglophile swashbuckler The Sea Hawk serves as an interesting allegory for World War II, made by Hollywood prior to the United States’ entrance into that conflict. Set in the 1500s, Spain (a stand-in for the Axis Powers) is Hellbent on conquering the planet, and daring English privateer (a pirate who works for a government) Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn) and his crew are the only ones who stop it. It works pretty well as a wartime spirit-raiser, but less so as a thrill-a-minute adventure piece.

The Sea Hawk is, unfortunately, slowly paced, all too often getting bogged down in romance or geopolitical scheming. The love story between Errol Flynn’s character and Doña Maria (Brenda Marshall) largely feels shoehorned in and the plot may have needed some streamlining. Another flaw is that the villains of the picture feel underdeveloped.

On the action front, this movie delivers its best set-piece far too early into its runtime. In fact, the very first action sequence in the film, a thrilling sea battle, is the best one. Nothing after that in the feature can top that for excitement. Yes, there are some other above-average bits of mayhem spread into the mix, like a cool one-versus-four sword duel, but why start a flick with your best action scene?

If there’s one thing that keeps The Sea Hawk being propelled forward, that is its Erich Wolfgang Korngold musical score. It’s a rousing piece of work that elevates the material. That being said, this film largely exists in the realm between “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down.” It has some great action, but, if you’re in the mood for an Errol Flynn movie, you’re better off with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). That’s the real deal.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Highwaymen (2019) Review

Director: John Lee Hancock

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) famously showed the Barrow Gang’s 1930s crime spree from the criminals’ points-of-view, while 2019’s The Highwaymen flips the script and reenacts it from the perspectives of the lawmen who hunted them down. It’s the Great Depression-era United States, and gangsters Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert) are rampaging through the Central-Southern part of the country, with former Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) hot on their tracks. It’s a respectable change of pace.

No, this movie isn’t nearly as good as 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. The two leads – Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson – have good chemistry and keep the leisurely-paced flick chugging along. The rural United States in the time of the Great Depression is brought to life surprisingly well, showing the breeding ground for criminals in desire of a better life. However, this film certainly does not glamorize the two crooks that the main characters are tracking down.

As I mentioned above, the pace of this picture can be, uh, leisurely. This is fine at first, but the feature does a questionable job of kicking it into high-gear when the climax approaches. Some moments of action feel sort of cheaply-made. The movie also underutilizes Kathy Bates’ character, “Ma” Ferguson, the Governor 0f Texas, who has to have Bonnie and Clyde killed or captured before they can make her look like too much of a fool.

Bonnie and Clyde are ruthless murderers here, largely kept offscreen like the beasts of a monster movie. Fortunately for the audience, the two lawmen on their trail are rendered colorfully here to make up for the lack of screentime that the two gangsters get. Overall, this film is a decent-enough diversion, but it needed a bit more pep in its step at times.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Comancheros (1961) Review

Directors: Michael Curtiz and John Wayne

Genre(s): Adventure, Western

Runtime: 107 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The last motion picture directed by Hollywood icon Michael Curtiz (who helmed such classics as Casablanca [1942]) was the John Wayne western The Comancheros. Curtiz was dying during the filming of the movie, and Wayne often stepped in to direct for him. The story of the film concerns Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne), who has to take down a society of outlaws selling firearms to hostile Native Americans. The Duke really piles up the corpses in this one.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The musical score by Elmer Bernstein is fabulous, even if it sounds a bit too similar to the one he wrote for The Magnificent Seven (1960) the previous year. The action scenes are very good, with tons of people falling off of horses. They certainly didn’t skimp on the body count here. There’s also some interesting worldbuilding for a western flick, with the bad guys – known as “the Comancheros” – basically being a civilization unto themselves.

What holds back The Comancheros from greatness is mostly its meandering plot. John Wayne working to take down gunrunners takes up only a fraction of the picture’s runtime. Much screentime is devoted to the Duke’s dealings with Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a fugitive that he’s slowly befriending, and some time is dedicated to widow Melinda Marshall (Joan O’Brien) who Wayne might be fancying. The film also falls back on the racist trope of there being “tame” Native Americans (those who voluntarily give up their land) and “wild” ones (those who don’t).

Action and music are the strong suits of this movie, while its shortcomings largely have to do with its unfocused nature. That being said, I’m sure fans of John Wayne will find plenty to like here. I just wish that the screenplay had been streamlined a bit and that a couple of slow spots had been patched over. Still, you could do a lot worse.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Mile 22 (2018) Review

Director: Peter Berg

Genre(s): Action, Thriller

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Mile 22 is intense, but aimlessly so. It got my blood pumping, but I’m not sure why, as it’s so messy and unsatisfying. Set in a fictional nation in Southeast Asia, a team of CIA operatives are tasked with escorting out of the country Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a police officer who knows the location of some weapons-of-mass-destruction that threaten the world. It’s an interesting set-up…with a so-so execution.

This is an action movie, and, on that front, we have a mixed bag. The editing is frequently too choppy for its own good, occasionally making it difficult to tell who’s fighting who. Martial artist Iko Uwais is one of the main draws of the film, and his action scenes are exciting when they’re comprehensible. Overall, the violence is half-sloppy and half-well-done. There’s more gunplay than fisticuffs, resulting in endless headshots.

One of the more prominent flaws of the feature is the unlikable main character, James Silva (Mark Wahlberg). This guy’s got anger issues and does very little to ingratiate himself to the audience. Okay, he does prevent a kid from being blown the Hell up by a bomb, but that’s so far into the runtime that the opportunity to win over the viewer is long gone. He’s probably one of the most unpleasant leads since Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars prequels.

Yeah, I’ve definitely ragged on this movie enough. I mean, it’s not a boring picture, for what it’s worth. There’s no shortage of action here. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, it’s an oddly intense-feeling action-thriller, yet it doesn’t leave that much of an impression when it’s all said and done. It seems to have a worldview that’s on the nasty side, but, considering the film’s underwhelming nature, does it even matter?

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Foreigner (2017) Review

Director: Martin Campbell

Genre(s): Action, Thriller

Runtime: 113 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Although The Foreigner is directed by Martin Campbell, who helmed two of the best James Bond films, GoldenEye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006), this movie is not up to par with those two pictures. The complicated story concerns an immigrant to Great Britain named Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) who loses his daughter, Fan (Katie Leung), to a terrorist bombing in London and decides to harass the British government for the names of the perpetrators, so he can have his revenge. I like the Jackie Chan stuff in here, but these parts are often drowned out by a convoluted plot.

As some critics have pointed out, The Foreigner sometimes feels like two separate movies joined at the hip. One is a thriller about a cell of terrorists trying to reignite “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland and the government’s response and the other half is an actioner about Chan’s character beating up people on his vengeance-driven path. The behind-the-scenes intrigue sequences are kept afloat by Pierce Brosnan’s performance as Liam Hennessy.

The best parts of this feature are, as you might expect, the action scenes. They’re not as manically choreographed as the fights in some other Jackie Chan movies, but they’re still superb. Chan is much more sullen here than he is in his typical action-comedy. He’s certainly playing against type a bit, and I think it pays off pretty well for him.

The Foreigner‘s twisty and turny plot holds it back from being truly recommendable. There are so many characters and so many motivations that we just want all of it to stop and watch Chan pummel some fools. It’s nice to see Jackie doing something more serious – I’m all for that – but this one just feels overplotted.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Action, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 93 minutes (standard version), 96 minutes (extended version)

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Battle for the Planet of the Apes was the fifth and last installment in the original film series. After a nuclear war, underground, radioactive humans seek one final confrontation with a commune of humans and apes living together in peace. It’s not an abomination, but this is the weakest of the Planet of the Apes movies released in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the dark, chaotic, violent Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), a more kiddie approach was decided on for the franchise. Indeed, this is perhaps the most family-friendly of the entire series…including the Planet of the Apes pictures that came in the twenty-first century. Despite being the least graphic, this feature still attempts to grapple with some philosophical issues. Whether it’s successful or not, I’ll leave that up to you.

This piece of cinema has a noticeably lower budget than its predecessors. The ten-minute final action scene seems laughable at first, due to its monetary restrictions. However, director J. Lee Thompson makes the best of a dubious situation and the action (with the exception of a clunky shootout in the radioactive city where the bad guys come from) is moderately exciting.

Okay, it barely lives up to its title, as it borders on being called “Minor Skirmish for the Planet of the Apes,” but this is an okay movie. It certainly is kitschy, and not every scene is completely captivating. However, I still watch it every time I view the Planet of the Apes film franchise of the ’60s and ’70s, so I suppose that says something. It’s not torture unless you’re allergic to sci-fi cheesefests.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Logan Lucky (2017) Review

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Lucky Logan is an adequate heist/comedy movie…nothing more and nothing less. Two hick brothers – Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) – need to break safe-cracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of prison to help them with a daring NASCAR race track robbery. This is a low-octane picture that prides itself on its quirky characters and loosey-goosey storytelling.

This film has several chuckles, but its low-energy approach doesn’t do anybody any favors. Adam Driver’s Southern accent is pretty amusing, though. The pacing is leisurely, only being kicked up a notch when the actual heist goes down. The runtime may have been a tad too long, with a fair amount of scenes after the climax.

The central caper is appropriately intricate and is, as you might expect, the reason to watch. This is where the picture is in its element and the build-up starts to pay off. The movie’s lack of substantial violence is interesting to note. Yes, there are some fisticuffs, but it’s all oddly good-natured. I would not go into this feature expecting an action extravaganza, though.

Logan Lucky sometimes feels like the heist version of Napoleon Dynamite (2004), except it’s a lot less funny than that film. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s a waste of time, but its awkward tempo is a disservice. There are some clever plotting and beats here, don’t get me wrong. People who adore pictures that say “look at my characters…aren’t they quirky and offbeat?!” will enjoy this one, but I am less enthused with it.

My rating is 6 outta 10.