Film Review: The Escape of Prisoner 614

Despite amiable performances by a great cast, this bantering seriocomedy about two sort-of deputies tracking a prison escapee in the Catskill Mountains is a sub-Tarantino dud.
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From the surf-guitar opening credits to the rambling guy-banter and comedy-of-no-manners repartee, this feature-film debut from New York state writer-director Zach Golden falls into the sons-of-Tarantino school of moviemaking. That can be good (Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, Go) or not-so-good (American Strays, 2 Days in the Valley). This falls into the not-so-good category.

Sometime in the 1960s—confusingly not stated but surmised through old-fashioned landlines, smoking in restaurants, a VW bus, a reference to 1958 and a plate of diner meatloaf costing $2.85—sheriff's deputies Jim Doyle (Martin Starr) and Thurman Hayford (Jake McDorman) haven't seen any crime in the tiny, real-life Catskills town of Shandaken, NY for years. A dreaded visit from hardcase Sheriff Wilson (Ron Perlman), who dresses in undertaker black and enters rooms by kicking in the door, results in their being fired for lack of arrests. Their necessary presence as deterrent and as emergency aid goes unmentioned—as do many other points of logic, signaling a sloppiness that continues to the movie's very end.

Turning in their guns and badges and given till end of day to clear out, the two amiable lunkheads—who seem anachronistically longhaired for deputies in 1960s crewcut-land—grasp at a straw when a nearby prison warden (Ralph Cashen) phones about an escaped prisoner. This gives Thurman, the ostensible brains of the outfit, the notion to capture the escapee, become heroes and get their jobs back. Jim reluctantly goes along. Becoming more and more out of their depth as they climb further and further up a mountain trail in pursuit of their quarry, the two engage in such one-dimensional idiocy as having a beer-can-shooting competition despite having limited ammunition and the fact that all that noise could alert their prey. But said prey (George Sample III) isn't much smarter, starting a campfire in the woods. A confrontation and capture, and much subsequent bantering, ensue.

The performers are all top-notch—including Sondra James as seen-it-all old diner owner Marla, who gets one of the film's best lines, and Michael Sirow as a local reporter whom the sheriff casually terrorizes with folksy anecdotes—and Starr and Perlman also contributed as executive producers, showing faith in the project. Audiences willing to turn a blind eye to story concerns in favor of enjoying watching two childhood friends still acting like they're only playing at cops-and-robbers may be charmed. And the always dead-on, always watchable Perlman brings genuine menace to his role. But slack direction works against the zip that this would-be whimsy needs, as do nonsensical plot turns that a lighter, quicker touch might—might—have glossed over. 

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