Skip to main content

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.


(SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Warden Holliday: Who needs fences? Who needs guards? We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

The yen for exploding extremities probably started with Scanners, at least as an ’80s phenomenon. And on the incarceration theme, the same year’s Escape from New York found Snake Plissken required to rescue the president from Manhattan open prison before a couple of micro-explosives severed his carotid arteries. The tried-and-tested locked-up version debuts in The Running Man, though, where Arnie sports a – yep – explosive collar that triggers if he or his co-convicts exceed the perimeter.

Wedlock’s twist is that the triggering takes place if the inmate strays a hundred yards – really? Is that all? – from their paired partner (hence the title, unless you were in Canada where it was Deadlock). Subsequently, we’d get an intestinator (the following year’s Fortress), a different kind of intestinator (a xenomorph in a men’s prison – Alien³, also the following year), a particularly grim island (No Escape – but nice flora), and some heavy-duty magnetising boots in a clink on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean (Face/Off). More recently, there’s been Sly in a hi-tech joint (Escape Plan) and Guy Pearce on an orbital one (Lockout).

Warden Holliday: So far, Camp Holliday has been 100 percent successful. No one has ever escaped. Why? Because we’ve taken the responsibility off of us and placed it on your shoulders.

Wedlock shares some DNA with Face/Off and Escape Plan, in that the prison employs high-tech methods, but the world is otherwise pretty much familiar (one might argue its prison is rather progressive in some ways, since there’s a mixed population and inmates are permitted to “bump uglies” during magic “hour”, 7-10pm). We’re told the proceedings take place “sometime in the future”, but since Graffiti Bridge and Marked for Death – neither exactly first choices for retrospective seasons – are showing at a cinema, one would be forgiven for assuming it’s actually closer to a few months in the past. Nevertheless, The Sterling City Chronicle informs us the date is October 12 2009, supplying such nuggets as “Gold Prices Soar: New Standard to Combat Fed Insolvency”, “Easy Passage of Unified Bar Code as Third Language Expected in Senate” and, if I read it right, “200th Rolling Stones album released”. So it seems there was good, bad and downright terrifying, respectively, in this alt-world of thirteen years ago. Who knew?

That vagueness also suits what is clearly a low-budget affair; as noted, Wedlock debuted on HBO in the US (and rental in the UK); it’s something of a step down for Roger Corman graduate Lewis Teague, whose flirtation with the big leagues appeared to end abruptly following the failure (relative to cost) of the previous year’s Navy SEALs. He’d garnered early recognition for the sparky, John Sayles-scripted Alligator, and went on to a couple of variable Stephen King adaptations (Cujo, Cat’s Eye) before pre-empting the likes of Renny Harlin and Stephen Hopkins (on Joel Silver productions) with strictly second-grade work on the quick cash-in Romancing the Stone sequel The Jewel of the Nile; it was a hit, but the best thing about it was the title. Teague took another four years to follow it up, in the form of the unlikely Jay Leno (yes, you read that right) starrer Collision Course.

Frank: You’re not just a sadist. You’re a greedy sadist.

Teague has some good company for his drift from the big leagues, though, since Rutger Hauer was, at this point, become something of a video-store titan, when not cashing Guinness cheques. Accompanied by Salute to the Jugger co-star Joan Chen (relishing a particularly odious ex role) and humorously weasely Stephen Tobolowsky as Warden Holliday – warden of Camp Holliday – there are a few engaging quirks in the casting that offset Mimi Rogers and Jame Remar. The former, playing Rutger’s Wedlock partner (nobody is supposed to know who their partner is, in order to prevent escape attempts), lacks the light touch required for this kind of fare, while Remar is doing no more than necessary (it’s a rubbish role, to be fair). More noteworthy are Basil Wallace and Denis Forest as particularly unpleasant inmates/sub-wardens; when their demise comes, it’s thoroughly deserved. You can also see Glen Plummer (Speed) and Danny Trejo (getting his throat cut).

Frank: Last time I trusted a woman, I needed six hours of surgery.

Rutger’s Frank Warren is betrayed by squeeze Noelle (Chen) and pal Sam (Remar), following a diamond robbery in which they rather cutely dress as priests; however, despite being “never really smart”, he takes the secret of where he stashed the diamonds to prison with him. Once there, it becomes clear Warden Holliday and his “extraordinary new penal experiment” is in league with Noelle, looking to secure his own share of the loot. Thus Frank, who is resourceful but far from a bruiser – an “electronics expert not a murderer” – is subjected to punishments, penalties and mistreatment, including an extended stint in a sensory deprivation tank (during which Wallace’s Emerald shows up to piss on him).

The first part of Wedlock is engaging up-against-it incarceration material, then, but once Tracy (Rogers), who has been imprisoned for touting Scientology to wannabe movie stars, intervenes and she and Frank head off on the run, the proceedings take a turn for the pedestrian. Aside from Frank’s extraordinary taste in knitwear, that is.

Notably, the explosive collars display bar codes (various Mark-of-the-Beast bandwagoning can also be found in Alien³, and Fortress). There’s mention of the Colombian Wars (where Frank and Sam fought). Richard Gibbs’ score makes for an increasingly irritating accompaniment. As the futuristic prison sub-subgenre goes, Wedlock is far from in the first tier; it’s all gimmick and lacks the style to take up the slack. But Hauer is on good form, even as he begins his descent into rotundity and indiscriminate selection of roles.

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.