The similarities are too spot-on to be a coincidence — a father breaks out of prison, reconnects with his three sons, who come to realize he’s a murderous psychopath and not the daddy they’ve been taught to respect, revere and love.
But “Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison” is a fact-based account, using real names, “the true story” of how three adoring boys (Alex MacNiccol, Skyy Moore, Casey Thomas Brown) busted their dad (Robert Patrick) out of an Arizona prison, and only figured out what they’d done when their dash for the Mexican border turned murderous.
The kids are sons of Dorothy, played by Heather Graham as if she’s thrilled to finally be free of the tarts Hollywood always saw her as. She’s a dimwitted religious crank who fell under the spell of Gary Tison (Patrick) during an earlier prison stint. That’s right, she met him in stir.
“A good man…sometimes a good man listens to a bad one,” she explains to the naive young reporter (Molly O’Quinn) who “befriends” her.
Three sons were the result, boys who really only knew their “innocent” father via Sunday visits after his final conviction. Donnie (MacNicoll of “MacFarland, USA”) is the oldest, pragmatic, with a stint in the military behind him. Ricky (Moore) is the youngest and would follow his older brother anywhere. Ray (Brown) takes after his mamma — sensitive, unquestioning, soft-in-the-head.
They show up at prison every week to chat with daddy. And one week, they show up with guns, two of them overpowering the aw-shucks guards at the entrance desk, the other “visiting” Daddy by escorting him out.
Another convict (Chris Browning, brilliant, and every bit as scary as Patrick) pitches in when the escape goes down, and they’re off — swapping vehicles, racing to a rendezvous with Gary’s brother and a plane that will take them to Mexico.
It’s 1978, remember, and the U.S. border was even more porous than it is today. They could drive or walk, with a bit of water, across. But Gary wants to “leave in style.” If they get bored, “there’s a little bank I think we ought to hit!”
Donnie starts questioning the old man right at that point, his rages about having the wrong vehicle to make their getaway (a Chrysler 5th Avenue, a “yank tank” of the era and totally unsuitable for desert driving), his tardy brother, the poor planning the boys did, how this person or that one “ain’t no better’n me,” when plainly every one of them is more evolved than this sociopath.
His threats that “I won’t hesitate to paint these walls the color God made you!” and assorted Biblical allusions (“Blood calls to blood!”) let us see how he got his boys to carry out his scheme, and how he got the Church Lady to fall for him.
But the one guy who would never fall for any of that is the sheriff (Bruce Davison, sober and real in the part) who locked him up, now scrambling to find him again before Tison can hurt anybody else.
Of course, he’s a step late in doing that — repeatedly.
It’s a movie of cheap wigs (Graham’s, not out of character), dusty, ruined trailer parks, car thefts and murderous hijackings.
Greenawalt (Brown) takes a dislike to Donnie, but he’ll take a fatherly interest in showing the lad how to steal a late 60s vintage pickup (it wasn’t hard).
“You can have anything you want in this world, long as you know how to steal it.”
A terrific scene — the testy no-nonsense sheriff questioning the good ol’boy prison warden, played by John Heard in one of the last performances of a great character actor.
Director Dwight Little did chunks of TV’s “Prison Break” and “Nikita” and “Bones,” and manages this brisk saga in efficient if colorless strokes. As on TV, it’s more about performances and actor close-ups than flash and style.
Patrick, who worked with Little on TV’s “Scorpion,” makes the most of a rare big screen starring role, joking about an escape that was “cleaner’n a whore’s Bible,” dropping a colloquial “Do WHAT now?” just often enough to give the picture — with California’s Joshua Tree subbing for Arizona — an authentic tang.
It’s not the career-making genre thriller that the fictionalized “At Close Range” was for director James Foley. Patrick’s no Christopher Walken, after all. But his riveting turn, and some terrific support from the under-used Davison and misused Graham make “Last Rampage” worth checking out, the very definition of “Netflixable.”
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, and language throughout
Cast: Robert Patrick, Heather Graham, Bruce Davison, Chris Browning, Alex MacNicoll, Skyy Moore, Casey Thomas Brown, Molly C. Quinn, John Heard
Credits:Directed by Dwight H. Little, script by Alvaro Rodriguez, Jason Rosenblatt. An Epic Pictures release.
Running time: 1:33