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Doin’ Time (1985, George Mendeluk)
Starring: Jeff Altman, Dey Young, Richard Mulligan, Big Yank, John Vernon, Simmy Bow, Barstow Eves, Muhammad Ali.
Tagline: ‘The most outrageous, hilarious, bizarre prison movie ever to escape.’
Trailers: Parker, She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas, La Historia Oficial
Cherrypick: “I think I found his weakness. Every time you punch him in the balls - he goes down!”
The Big House; the Cooler; Statesville; Old Chokey; Greystone College; the County Hotel: like schooldays, active service and a career in ‘waste management’, prison life is a duck-press in which the most colourful argot is forged. As intimate, lifelong friendships are cast, enemies shared and disappointments conjoined, the cryptic and endlessly evolving word-jazz that rat-a-tats through those calaboose bars carries within it a sense of community most law-abiding citizens will never truly know. It is a hard-luck language sired by circumstance and nursed by the knowing self-pity of the chain-gang lament; basted in irony and seasoned with time.
|Yellow credits - always a bad sign|
Little wonder, then, that with all this purple patois floating around that Hollywood scriptwriters should continue to dig around for prison yarns through which to parade their repertoires of purloined prose. But although it has proven endlessly tempting to all manner of writers and directors down the years, filmmakers looking to transcend prison movie diktats have almost to a man found themselves stymied by the burden of ministering to the genre’s compulsory cast of new fish, kindly old lags, bent screws and wicked wardens, its necessarily grim settings and the limited set of achievable goals for which their protagonists can reasonably aim.
Of course none of this barely researched claptrap would have mattered to the Braniacs up at ERHQ; to them prison was just another backdrop to crud up with their bush league spoofery. And so, from what the credits insist is an original story by Franelle Silver and Ron Zwang comes the most unbalanced, incautious bit of business committed to magnetic strip since Tricky Dick’s Lee Harvey Oswald impression turned up at the end of the Nixon Tapes; the aforementioned Doin’ Time.
|Mulligan: Lust for Lunacy|
Sentenced to twenty to ten in the pen for porking the Governor’s wife, diminutive door-to-door cryogenics salesman (no, really) Duke Jarrett (Altman) is looking at some serious limbo time. Quite which law he is adjudged to have actually broken is never made entirely clear, but five minutes in his glib, oleaginous company was more than enough to convince us that whatever the inequities surrounding the terms of his incarceration, the bastinado is most definitely the correct place for the little turd. Add to his constant toadying a loud mouth, a lofty demeanour and a line in sarcasm that’s about as subtle as a burning cathedral, and it’s safe to say that Duke’s spell in the bastille is going to be short, gruelling and more than eventful.
Things initially look up when he arrives at the prison to find the convicts merrily cooking burgers on the electric chair, performing skits on their own in–house TV channel and enjoying regular Friday night mixers with the women's prison across the street, but after running foul of the prison’s Mr. Big (Vernon) in a hallucinatory episode involving a hedge trimmer, a croissant and some ordinary household bleach, Duke finds himself challenged to a knock-down-drag-out boxing match with Vernon’s henchman – a white, middle-aged Mr. T manqué known simply as ‘Animal’. Such madcap mobocracy promises to be firmly stamped out when ludicrous popinjay Richard Mulligan (moose-faced fruit-loop Burt Campbell from TV’s Soap) takes over as warden, but when he in fact turns out to be stone-hatchet mad the prison spirals yet further out of control and the remainder of the movie veers off into a boxing picture rudely pasted together using cutaways from other films.
|Say it ain't so, Mo!|
Attaining a level of humour nudging pre-school and with the production values of a Central American snuff movie, DT’s shortcomings give one abundant leave to idly marvel at the unyielding power of the VHS juggernaut to so marmelise the careers of the likes of Mulligan and Vernon under its rancid wheels. Mulligan at least throws himself into proceedings with the vim and brio he applied to his every role. He does, admittedly, display frequent signs of having heavily self-medicated to reach such a state, but at least he gets behind the mule. Point Blank and Josey Wales veteran Vernon on the other hand seems so utterly mortified by the grievous sliproad onto which the ERH 18-Wheeler has muscled him that his despair seeps from every frame and oozes down the screen…
When not even a brief appearance by Muhammad Ali and his trainer/colour man/prank monkey Bundini Brown can enliven things, you know you’re up shit creek.
A Filmcorp production.