The late Stanley Kubrick all but disowned his first attempt at making a feature film, saying “I finished it” was its singular achievement.
Something one keeps in mind with every first effort at making a movie. Even one as dismal as “The Escape of Prisoner 614.” You never know when you’re seeing the first flailings of “genius.”
The writing-directing debut of Internet phenom and self-published cookbook author Zach Golden, he of “What the F*@# Should I Make For Dinner?” fame, it is a comedy as free of laughs as any film that’s landed Ron Perlman in its cast and rented a train for its finale has a right to be.
It’s sort of a “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” without the evil, without charismatic leads, without any joke that plays like the first draft ATTEMPT at a joke.
Seriously, unless that cookbook is filled with hash brownie recipe variations, I defy even Golden’s fans and family to name one laugh-out-loud moment in it. It just leans on the screen, winded and motionless without anybody involved hinting that they’ve burned any calories to make it better.
Jake McDorman (“American Sniper”) and “Silicon Valley” vet Martin Starr are Thurman and Jim, two upstate New York rubes, sheriff’s deputies in a county with so little crime they spend their down time playing sheriff and robbers.
The sheriff (Ron Perlman) lays them off for never arresting anybody. But when the warden of Adirondack State Prison (Ralph Cashen) calls as they’re cleaning out the desks in their log cabin office, well, here’s their chance. Prisoner 614, “a cold blooded cop killer,” has escaped. If they can catch him, maybe the sheriff will give them back their jobs.
With these yokels target practicing away their ammo as they trek up the mountain where 614 has fled, dealing with insecurities, phobias and general stupidity as obstacles to their accomplishing this mission, what could wrong?
But in the “even a blind pig” logic of the movie, of course they catch the guy. All they have to do is convince him (George Sample III) to come along and not make any fuss.
“You’re a prisoner. Prisoners belong in prison.”
What do THEY know about it?
“Well, I seen ‘Cool Hand Luke’ a coupla months back. Seems alright. Lotsa eggs.”
OK, I grinned at that.
Perlman, sheepishly wearing the costume cooked-up for this 1960s period piece — Western cowboy-cut fedora, boots, dime-store “Sheriff” badge — has nothing remotely funny to say or play. The sheriff’s all about holding a newspaper photographer hostage so he can get a shot of himself holding the suspect in the paper.
Sample (of “Person to Person”) plays a guy blandly protesting his innocence and suggesting there’s a racist motivation for his imprisonment.
And McDorman and Starr mug for the camera, let their facial hair get away from them and try not to act disappointed that their lines never get any better than this.
“If we’re not deputies, then what ARE we?”
“We’re WORSE than nothing. We’re CIVILIANS.”
In Los Angeles and New York, it’s not uncommon for well-heeled student filmmakers to line up “name” stars for their projects, and that’s what this looks and plays like — a student film with a couple of gettable-movie “stars” in it.
Still, it got distribution. That’s almost more than Stanley Kubrick was able to say about his first film. Of course, he had more sense than to try for a comic period piece his first time out.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for smoking throughout, and for language
Cast: Martin Starr, Jake McDorman, Ron Perlman, George Sample III
Credits:Written and directed by Zach Golden. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:37