'The Escape of Prisoner 614': Film Review

Shoots comedy blanks.
4/27/2018

Ron Perlman plays a vengeful sheriff in Zach Golden's satricial modern-day Western about two deputies attempting to track down an escaped prisoner.

It's not surprising that a debuting filmmaker whose biggest claim to fame is inventing an apparently hugely successful website dubbed whatthefuckshouldimakefordinner.com would produce an effort as trivial as Zach Golden's The Escape of Prisoner 614. Clearly influenced by the Coen brothers (the debt acknowledged in the press notes, although they really push it by also referencing John Ford), this satirical, modern-day Western induces a few mild chuckles but mostly wastes the talents of its cast.

Nearly managing to prop up the wobbly proceedings through the sheer force of his presence, Ron Perlman gives his all to his role as a hard-driving, corrupt sheriff who has little use for his two weaselly deputies Jim Doyle (Martin Starr, Silicon Valley) and Thurman Hayford (Jake McDorman, American Assassin). The physically imposing actor even manages to make a line like "I just don't like having my budget reduced!" feel utterly menacing.

As the 1960s-set story begins, the sheriff has had it up to here with his underperforming underlings who haven't managed to make a single arrest in all the years they've been working for him (they claim it's a testament to how effective they are at preventing crime). While the deputies are cleaning out their desks after getting fired, they receive a phone call from the warden (Ralph Cashen) of a nearby prison who tells them that a prisoner has escaped and has been spotted in their jurisdiction. So they decide to attempt to hunt down the escapee in an effort to get their jobs back.

Their efforts don't start out well, as they use up all of their ammunition vainly attempting to shoot a soda can for practice. They have a bizarre encounter when they run into a trio of hunters who all seem to be auditioning for a ZZ Top cover band. Somehow, despite their bumbling, the deputies manage to stumble across the prisoner (George Sample III), who claims that while he did escape from prison, he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. The three men have a spirited debate about the quality of incarceration, with Doyle saying that prisons must be okay since, according to the movie Cool Hand Luke, there's no shortage of eggs to eat.

For a while, the film's brand of tongue-in-cheek, deadpan humor proves mildly enjoyable, such as when the deputies enjoy an outdoor campfire meal that naturally includes, what else, baked beans. There are also some fun scenes involving a sardonic, seen-it-all diner waitress, wonderfully played by Sondra James. But the rambling proceedings go nowhere very interesting, and the longer they do you realize the paucity of actual wit on display. The performers do what they can with the tired material, with Starr mining his doofus character for all it's worth and Perlman making a committed investment that doesn't pay off. Despite their strenuous efforts and the picturesque Catskill Mountains locations, The Escape of Prisoner 614 comes to feel as laborious as its title.

Production companies: Film Mode Entertainment, Yale Productions, SSS Entertainment, Wing and a Prayer Productions
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Ron Perlman, Martin Starr, Jake McDorman, George Sample III, Sondra James, John Hickman, Michael Sirow
Director-screenwriter: Zach Golden
Producers: Jordan Yale Levine, Jordan Beckerman, Shaun Sanghani

Executive producers: Sara Golden, Anthony Sanfilippo, Martin Starr, Brian Cohen, Michael J. Rothstein, Nick Wyman, Drew Wyman, Jonathan Saba, Shanan Becker, Ness Saban, William V. Bromiley, Ron Perlman, Josh Crook
Director of photography: Adam Lee

Production designer: Roxy Michaud Martinez
Editor: Adam Lee

Composer: Martin Crane
Costume designer: Rachaell Dama

Casting: Brandon Henry Rodriguez

Rated PG-13, 95 minutes