johnlink ranks BREAKDOWN (1997)

I can’t believe I never saw this movie. I feel as though I saw nearly every single action/suspense flick which came out during my high school years. I don’t think that’s something I should be putting on my resume, but it’s the truth. So here we go with a late 90s movie in the Big-Rig-Driver-Gone-Bad genre starring JT Walsh as said driver, and Kurt Russell as the victim. Come to think of it, I’ve seen most every Kurt Russell movie as well. How have I not seen this movie before?!?

I watched BREAKDOWN (1997) on 8.8.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

I went into this with exceptionally low hopes. Much of the B-class action genre of the 90s is junk, and this wasn’t a movie which screamed quality. But, on the other hand, Russell and Walsh are capable performers. All I was looking for was 90 minutes of entertainment, and not much else. On that level, it was successful.

Jeff (Russell) and his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are driving out west for a new job. Their car breaks down and a random trucker (Walsh) offers a ride. Amy accepts, while Jeff stays back with the car. When he finally gets it going, Amy isn’t where she said she would be. Jeff goes looking for her. Action ensues.

This is one of those movies where I kept rolling my eyes through the first act, only to find that most of the things I was expecting to be lame or unexplained coincidence turned out to be orchestrated. I certainly give it credit for that, though part of this surprise may have been a result of my historically low expectations.

This thing turns into a pretty good paranoia thriller, as Jeff doesn’t know who he can trust in this tiny little southwestern town. Everyone, including the cops, seem to have it in for him. This is a quick film, happening over the course of one day. The police paranoia, and Jeff’s increasing unwillingness to go to the authorities, is actually justified here. It’s not that he thinks they are bad, but he knows their disbelief and reluctance to help will just get his wife killed. Usually I am knocking movies of this sort for their inconsistencies. But BREAKDOWN really does get it right.

The first two acts turn out to be pretty good. Then the last act, really from the point when Jeff sees the Trucker at a truck-stop, goes crazy (in a good way). There are several continual scenes of intense action as Jeff tries to survive without being detected, before ultimately confronting the bad guys. The scenes don’t stop coming, and they are shot (surprisingly) very well. This movie doesn’t do anything to break down genre stereotypes or subvert audience expectations. What it does do, is deliver on intense and personal action. Jeff isn’t some super hero saving the world, he’s an average guy improvising to save his wife. The movie keeps itself inside that line pretty well except for one moment in a pickup when Jeff becomes a master of duct tape (but we can look past that).

I can see this movie making its way into an action-movie rotation. It’s a tight little film, and it quite enjoyable. It doesn’t feel particularly dated, save for its use of cell phones. But that bit of low-tech helps keep things realistic: not everyone is reachable at all times. Pretty good movie. Glad I found it.



The bonus is for the intensity in the climax. This movie really does have a great last act.



~ by johnlink00 on August 9, 2012.

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