RELEASE DATE: September 22, 2017
DIRECTOR: Dwight H. Little
MPAA RATING: R
RUNTIME: 93 minutes
It must have been easy to cut the trailer for Last Rampage. Every line of dialogue is its own SparkNotes summary – obvious and forced words thrown to the balconies by capable actors, as if the script is worried that we won’t understand what’s happening unless every feeling and emotion and reaction is spelled out in surface-level verbalizing. Director Dwight Little seems to take inspiration from hard-boiled crime dramas and westerns, every character speaking with a heavy Texan drawl, which I suspect is not native to the film’s setting of Arizona, but I could be wrong.
To be fair, this film operates like a neat, all-killer-no-filler potboiler when it hits its stride.Little and editor Bill Lynch have extensive experience working in network television. Perhaps it’s this background, cutting on a deadline and to a precise runtime, that renders the movie as concisely paced as it is. You could put it on in the background while doing housework and not miss any nuance. But you couldn’t leave the room for 10 minutes because the plot keeps chugging along at an admirably rapid speed.
You might work out the missing material pretty fast though, as the story doesn’t go anywhere that you wouldn’t expect it to, and that has nothing to do with the fact that it’s based on a true story, chronicling a 1978 prison breakout, in which convicted murderer Gary Tison (Robert Patrick) and his cellmate Randy Greenawalt (Chris Browning) escaped from incarceration with the help of Tison’s three sons (Alex MacNicoll, Skyy More and Casey Thomas Brown) and proceed to make a quixotic run south for the border.
No, Last Rampage stumbles because it takes a documented, real-life event and tosses it through the screenplay assembly line. Not only is there clichéd dialogue, but there are also underdeveloped characters and on-the-nose expositional opportunities. Consider the scene in which Dorothy (Heather Graham), Gary’s wife, first learns about the breakout. She’s at a diner, orders some lemon pie and learns that there’s none left; the last slice has been sold to Marisa, a young reporter at the booth behind her (Molly C. Quinn). When state troopers come and take her into protective custody, we learn that Marisa has an idealistic worldview because she stands up and declares to the officers that you can’t arrest someone without a reason and then asks Dorothy if she needs a lawyer.
Think about it. To which party in that scenario is anything that she says new information? This is a moment of anvil-like convenience. The characters have already established their awareness of one another, and the movie continues on without that specific interaction becoming relevant. Last Rampage is oblivious to the fine art of inference and subtlety. You could watch it with the picture turned off, and make your way through just listening to the words and sounds. When Gary first escapes and is in the getaway car, he tells Randy that they’re lucky – they broke out of jail without having to fire a single shot. He just saw that. He knows. So do we.
I have no doubt that the weeks in which these events took place were ones of consequence and inherent drama, and there is a great movie there. You can see the vestiges of one in Last Rampage’s performances – from Robert Patrick’s tough, throaty utterances and menacing demeanor to the increasing dissonance among Gary’s sons and the distraught and conflicted Dorothy. But the script takes these basic adjectives and makes them all we know about the characters, and knowing that they’re based on real people, this makes such flatness all the more befuddling.
If Little wanted to make an action film about a prison break, then none of this would have mattered. But that’s not his end game. Last Rampage wants to be an investing recreation and to chronicle every facet of its world that it can with detail and attention. So let’s piece this together and try to figure out if that’s what we get – Points for the tight editing with clockwork efficiency; points for the strong acting; points for the stately, if not showy, cinematography. The environment is there. It feels lived in. Yet with such a clunky script, it’s all window-dressing for a rather empty interior.