Film Review: Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison

Based on the prison break of career criminal Gary Tison, this sober movie focuses on twisted family dynamics rather than car chases and shootouts.
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July 31, 1978: Gary Tison (Robert Patrick) and Randy Greenawalt (Chris Browning) engineer a bold escape from the Arizona State Prison by using Tison's sons Donnie (Alex MacNicoll), Ray (Casey Thomas Brown) and Ricky (Skyy Moore), the youngest at 17, to smuggle guns into the facility. The breakout was "cleaner than a whore's bible," Tison declares, but the getaway is murder.

While being pursued by veteran Agent Cooper (Bruce Davison), Tison and company try to rendezvous with his brother Joe (William Shockley), who's supposed to get him to Mexico. Meanwhile, ambitious young local reporter Marisa (Molly C. Quinn) strikes up a relationship with Tison's devoted and deeply religious wife, Dorothy (Heather Graham), who truly believes that her husband is an innocent man who's been unjustly imprisoned even as he cuts a bloody swath across the state.

Directed by Dwight Little from a screenplay by Alvaro Rodriguez and James W. Clarke (based on his own book), Last Rampage never plays into the myth of the criminal as neo-western desperado: Gary Tison is a bad man, one whose best quality—abiding love for his three sons—destroyed all of them in one way or another. Working with a strong cast, Little—whose eclectic resume ranges from horror (Halloween 4, 1989's Phantom of the Opera) to thrillers, from Free Willy 2 to episodes of TV's “Prison Break”—tells the story with no-nonsense briskness, and allows the fugitives' shift from confidence to growing desperation to play out incrementally, and both Patrick and Davison use the opportunity to deliver nuanced performances. Heather Graham is also striking as Dorothy, thoroughly deluded and utterly devoted to her ruthless husband.

Last Rampage is a hard sell in a market saturated with brainless shoot-’em-ups; the action is as brief and sporadic as it generally is in real life, and it's thoroughly deglamorized—no one is going to leave the theatre calling it "lots of fun."

All things considered, Last Rampage might have benefitted from being made as a multi-part television film, which would have allowed more time to delve into the Tison family's twisted dynamics, including Dorothy's ability to convince herself that her husband is innocent of multiple crimes, Gary's devotion to his boys ("Blood calls to blood," he says more than once, with Old Testament gravity) and their idolization of a man they know more by reputation than personal experience. But it's a strong film and should find a significant audience in secondary markets.

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