Rebel Highway Double Feature: Jailbreakers & Runaway Daughters

jailbreakersA few weeks back I was looking around on Netflix Instant and saw the poster for a Shannen Doherty/Antonio Sabato Jr. movie called Jailbreakers from 1994 that looked very 90s Miramax. Even with all that going for it, it wasn’t the kind of movie I immediately wanted to watch until I looked at the director and saw that it was directed by William “The Exorcist” Friedkin! That was such a bonkers combination that I needed to check it out.

While reading the IMDb trivia page for this movie — something I can’t seem to go 10 minutes without doing after starting anything — I discovered that it was actually part of an anthology series on Showtime called Rebel Highway. The basic idea was to take the title of an old American International Pictures teen movie from the 50s and 60s, give it to a director and have them make a more gritty film with a cast of young up-and-comers. Each project had a $1.3 million budget and 12 days to shoot. Sounds like a pretty rad experiment to me!

So how are the results? Well, not so great in the case of Jailbreakers which suffered from two major problems for me. First off, there wasn’t a frame of this movie that looked like it was from the time period of the story. Actually, that’s not quite the case. More accurately, there isn’t a frame of this film that doesn’t scream, “I was made in the mid 90s!!!” It’s just got that dull look of TV movies from the 90s that, no matter how good your costumes or set dressing are, look like the time it was made in instead of the time it’s supposed to be. I can chalk that up to the low budget and pay cable quality of the day.

The second problem is more, well, problematic and it leads in to the part where I talk about the plot. Doherty plays a high school kid named Angel who was a good girl up until she met Antonio Sabato Jr.’s Tony, a bad boy biker. The two start getting into trouble which leads to them getting caught by the cops. Tony goes to jail while Angel moves with her parents to another town where they don’t know anything about her mistakes. Tony eventually gets out and reunites with Angel only to realize he might be more than just a little bad. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was pretty familiar to me too and hit a ton of notes that I’ve seen before. And, aside from a great performance by Adrien Brody, the tried and true elements don’t get much of a boost from this particular group of actors.

runaway daughters

I had a much better time with another Rebel Highway offering, Runaway Daughters. This one features Paul Rudd and Julie Bowen, though they’re not really the stars 0f this film directed by the always awesome Joe Dante. In this case Mary (Holly Fields) winds up getting together with two of her girlfriends Angie (Bowen) and  Laura (Jenny Lewis who was in The Wizard!) and driving to San Diego in order to grab Bob (Chris Young, PCU), Mary’s baby daddy before he can officially enlist in the army. Along the way they find themselves dealing with crooked cops, crazy preppers and a variety of other problems.

While Jailbreakers took an old story and just did it again with more cursing and violence, Runaway Daughters actually used the framework of this kind of story to get into some actual social commentary. Throughout the film, Laura talks about how ridiculous it is that society shuns young women for having sex when it’s a natural thing. We’re mostly told by TV and film that everyone in the 50s was a buttoned-up square, but that’s a myth. There were plenty of people looking at the norms and realizing some of them were silly.

Plus, while this movie looks the same as Jailbreakers, it does boast a more interesting story and a much better cast. Rudd doing his best James Dean or Marlon Brando impression is a lot of fun. Then you’ve got Bowen playing the instigator perfectly, Dick Miller as a grizzled but also somewhat socially conscious private detective and even appearances by Roger Corman and Joe Flaherty. And those are just the people I recognized. This might be the least Joe Dante movie I’ve ever seen, but it was still an enjoyable outing that adds a nice layer to his filmography. 

Halloween Scene: Bug (2006)

7:29:14 am

Bug’s a strange movie, but it’s a good one. It’s based on a play and it feels like it seeing as how most of the movie takes place within Ashley Judd’s apartment or hotel room or whatever the heck kind of place she lives. The basic story is that she meets this dude played exceptionally by Michael Shannon who, after a while, starts explaining to her about a military plot to plant bugs into him and other people. Basically, it’s a psychological thriller as we’re never quite sure whether it’s real or just the rantings of a Shannon’s crazy man.

I haven’t seen crazy played so convincingly well in quite a while. Judd already plays a down and out woman whose kid got kidnapped and whose husband (played by Harry Conick Jr.) has just gotten out of jail. But as Shannon’s tales start to effect her, she gets crazier and crazier and it’s amazing. Towards the end they even reach Dr. Loomis levels of nuttiness, going so far as to cover Judd’s entire place in tin foil, even as other people come in and out of their lives trying to get both of them out of there.

Oh and for anyone that might not know, director William Friedkin is the guy who directed The Exorcist. Bug is definitely no Exorcist, but it is nice to see an older filmmaker still making good movies 30 years or so after they were initially making great films.

It’s also nice to see Judd playing such a great and creepy role. I don’t really know her work that well, but she seems like the type that wouldn’t do this kind of movie, so I’m glad she did (I’m not sure if that makes sense or not).

Even though the flick feels awfully long, it’s only about an hour and forty minutes. It’s mostly because the scenes are mostly in the same locale and the shots tend to linger longer than most other movies. I do recommend it, if for nothing else than seeing a master filmmaker still doing what he does best (giving folks the willies), actors absolutely killing their roles and a story that remains ambiguous and yet still convincing even up to it’s non traditional ending. Oh there’s also a teeth pulling scene that is way more Running Man than The Dentist. Yeesh.