Their audiences don’t necessarily overlap, but anybody seeing “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” on Netflix after catching “Downton Abbey” on the big screen should pick up on the similarities.
They both exist as fan service, movies that give devotees what they want. “Character moments” abound. Scenes, here and there, have a random “Well, let’s give him/her another bow” feeling. Both films lope along, stuffed with scenes that don’t do much of anything to drive the narrative forward. The lack of “urgency” — a characteristic of long-form/short-season television — weighs on them both. The story doesn’t race forward so much as drip drip drip along.
And fans will not care.
But in the case of “Breaking Bad,” the victory lap series creator and writer/director Vince Gilligan was going for seems off.
It picks up the story right after the bloody but sentimental mayhem of the “Breaking Bad” series finale, which happened six years ago. Everybody who was there, who lived through it or who returns in fresh flashbacks here, is older, heavier, plainly not the scrawny cancerous high school chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston) or his former student Jesse is played by a 40 YEAR OLD (Aaron Paul). And Jesse Plemons, Jesse Pinkman’s captor and a somewhat simple drug mob killer, has become a star character actor and put on age and weight in the ensuing six years.
Pretending years and years haven’t passed between then and the present day is a mistake. Underlining that is the genre of story Gilligan tells. “El Camino,” named for the classic truck-bodied Chevy, is a GET AWAY tale. Jesse Pinkman survived a slaughter that is still all over the news. His parents are being interviewed on TV. There’s a manhunt on. And this languid “memory play” of a movie is about how seemingly unconcerned Jesse is about self-preservation, you know escaping.
Cops and bad guys are looking for him and this rare, collectible car he’s driving. And dude, beaten and tortured and on the lam — doesn’t get out of town as fast as his legs or El Camino can take him. Scene after scene, long flashbacks about that captivity with his murderous jailor (Plemons) simple-mindedly using him as slave labor — installing a camper cover on the El Camino, disposing of a body in Todd’s oddly retro-mod Albuquerque apartment — poke along, with no sense of the ticking clock that should be/HAS to be running out on old Jesse, who needs to hightail it to wherever he can to “start over.”
Are we being asked to forget the 40 year old playing him? Jesse is still supposed to be young and naive enough to maybe not grasp the urgency of his situation, the time-sensitive peril he faces.
The choppy, episodic-TV vignettes-“story” never works in a feature film. But there is a “Breaking Bad” logic to the narrative. Jesse reasons he needs money to start over. He mulls over his just-past-his-teens flashback with meth-man Mike (Jonathan Banks) about what he could do, where he could go, having made bank at such a young age (cough cough).
The long flashbacks covering his captivity do more than just turn Plemons into the film’s co-star. They reveal the cash that Jesse knows is out there, and the other bad men who contributed to his captivity, although that seems alternately too humane to be as sadistic as it was.
Robert Forster was in a single episode of the TV series, but has a lovely, sharp and amusing stand-alone scene here.
And Cranston’s return as Walter White may be a selling point, but serves no purpose other than to show how different Walter and Jesse look from their “Breaking Bad” years.
None of which should chase fans away from this feature length coda. But don’t kid yourself. As a stand-alone movie, this isn’t all that.
The grace notes, final bows (Skinny Pete and Badger), classic cars that would be the easiest vehicles in New Mexico to track down — a Fiero, the El Camino, a damned AMC Matador turns up in one random scene — are embellishmets on the bigger journey, Jesse’s hardening, his final metamorphisis as a character.
The stand-offs here play as contrived.
If you missed the series, or have forgotten much of it, there’s a refresher summary that plays as prelude here. But whatever “closure” fans want beyond that final “Baby Blue” send-off, “El Camino” still doesn’t add up to anything a non-fan should bother with.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, drug use, profanity
Cast: Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Robert Forster, Krysten Ritter, Jonathan Banks and Bryan Cranston
Credits: Written and directed by Vince Gilligan. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:02