J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Escape of Prisoner 614


Shandaken, NY was originally partly carved out of the town of Woodstock (as in the big muddy music fest), but its sheriff seems to think it is nestled somewhere in the deep south. The troglodytic lawman is about to fire his two witless deputies—probably his only defensible action in the entire film. To regain their badges, they will attempt to recapture a fugitive convict, but the plan gets rather complicated when they start to suspect he is innocent. Justice gets clumsy and oafish in Zach Golden’s The Escape of Prisoner 614 (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Thurman Hayford is the more confident deputy, whereas Jim Doyle is the nebbish dweeb, but between the two of them, they have not recorded an arrest in years. They argue that means they have been completely effective keeping Shandaken crime-free (they got that line from Marla at the diner), but the Sheriff is not buying it. However, when they take a call from the warden warning Prisoner 614 is loose in their jurisdiction, they head out to capture him.

Somehow, they manage to do exactly that, but the more they hear from their prisoner, the more they doubt the fairness of his trial and appeal. Of course, the Sheriff will not want to hear any of that when he catches up with them.

Tonally, this film is an absolute disaster area. Issues of race and injustice are heavy themes that demand serious treatment, but here they are basically window dressing for a slapstick buddy comedy. 614 plays like an ill-conceived cross between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Apple Dumpling Gang, with Don Knotts and Tim Conway.

Even the ordinarily reliable Ron Perlman cannot salvage 614. In fact, all the glowering he does as the Sheriff starts to come off as lazy shtick. He is still more watchable than either Martin Starr or Jake McDorman as the underwhelming deputies. As the titular escapee, George Sample III looks like he can hardly believe he is in this uncomfortable situation, which we can’t blame him for.

Whatever Golden was going for didn’t happen. It all looks modern day, but it feels like he is going for a period vibe. Presumably, he wants to make a statement, but the broad, sloppy humor drown it out. Not recommended, The Escape of Prisoner 614 opens this Friday (4/27) in New York, at the Village East.

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