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Breakout (2023) Review

Breakout was directed by Brandon Slagle (Battle of Saipan, Frost), written by Slagle and Robert Thompson (Crossbreed, Bermuda Island), and stars Louis Mandylor (Blowback, Renegades), Kristos Andrews (Battle for Pandora, The Bay), Brian Krause (Homestead, The Demonologist), Howard McNair (3 Holes and a Smoking Gun, Fallout: Nuka Break), Tom Sizemore (Striking Distance, The Assault), and Noel Gugliemi (Hustle Down, Savage Salvation). It’s about a retired black-ops agent and his incarcerated son who have to face off against a crook who has taken the prison they’re in hostage.

The Plot: Generic it may sound, but Breakout offers a hair more than one might expect from what sounds like another Die Hard-inspired action plot. Slagle and Thompson don’t have any aces up their sleeve, but they know how to get their important moments across without fuss to make room for B-movie proclivities.

During the end of a chase in which his partner is killed, Vincent (Andrews) makes his stand and kills undercover officer Chavez (Gugliemi), landing himself in prison for the foreseeable future. Breakout has a cold open that, while all too common nowadays, doesn’t overstay its welcome with extraneous details. Word about this gets to Vincent’s father, Alex (Mandylor), who’s there in a blink. At the same time, inmate Chandler (Krause) is having an in-house parole hearing where his escape plan is gestating. Simplicity is an asset for the film, as each of the threads connects seamlessly and smartly, allowing Slagle to gear up for the second half.

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Now in vicarious control thanks to Ruke (McNair) and others, Chandler lets the prisoners loose and allows them to choose sides before the police, led by Coleman (Sizemore), arrive. Of course, it isn’t long until they surround the prison, but they’re contacted by Alex, whose actions replicate those of McClane. From this point, Breakout is largely standard in terms of its plot and progression – Alex fights back against Chandler while Coleman delays demands – but the clever and direct first third and a change in allegiance gives it an edge over those who think they’re the first to put an escape on the screen.

The Characters: Hoping to skirt by on cliche, there’s not much to grasp at for the characters, who don’t have arcs and are thin on personality. Thankfully, the seasoned cast picks up the slack, but it’s hard not to wish for just a little more than the bare minimum.

Alex has, as is to be expected for a film like this, a hazy background, but one that includes tours in numerous countries on operations that aren’t even in the books. He has never been the father that he wanted to be and was (and still is) trying to make it right by getting his son out of prison. Vincent, on the other hand, has matured in short order and gotten into trouble just as quickly without proper guidance. There’s chemistry between Mandylor and Andrews, and good acting too, but what’s written in the script is barely passable characterization.

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Chandler doesn’t spark quite as much interest as Breakout wants him to, with little in the way of motive regarding the crimes that put him behind bars in the first place, but the script does at least make up for this drought by giving him ample opportunity to mog everyone around him. A former bomb squad operator, Chandler knows how to make a point with plastique and how to rile up anyone with any authority. Slagle offers a demeaning man time to wax about his bombings and sarcastically ask about the wounds he dealt, but what shines through the most is his vitriol for those in power. The rationale isn’t developed, but Krause picks up the pieces ably.

Coleman would be this movie’s Powell, but the writers make a different (and humorously zeitgeist-y) officer out of the character. Coleman talks about how his gut instinct will get him where he needs to go, and how the department needs to get on his wavelength and get moving. He’s not wrong here, but this dilemma forces him to try and appease the criminal while trying to de-escalate the situation with humour. It’s a risk, but it pays off thanks to Sizemore’s (underappreciated) comedic timing. The sentiment goes around for the roster here, with the actors doing the legwork while the script struggles with the basics.

The Action: Breakout offers its action scenes in different chunks and styles, with each fraction making up a greater whole. A lot of the spectacle is muted, but there’s plenty to be entertained by.

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For the first half, there’s quite a bit of slinking around and serial engagements. Alex is a scavenger of sorts, using his melee skills – which include both fists and blades – to gather weaponry that is eventually used in a more tactical manner. Mandylor’s background in Muay Thai is a boon for Breakout, as Alex wrangles and wrestles goons, stabs baddies in their femoral arteries, and leads some of Chandler’s unsuspecting sympathizers into traps and smokescreen camouflage. These sequences aren’t unique, but they’re well-choreographed despite their shortness.

Second-half fights don’t arrive with the same kinetic output that Slagle has previously telegraphed via a raid on the arms locker, but they’re no less brutal. Dotted throughout the movie are some rather generic gunfights with armed prisoners that default to the same shot reverse shot filming techniques, but the highlights soon return when Alex faces off against Chandler’s personal guard. One fight involves the hero quite literally being thrown around and nearly stabbed in the throat, and another is a secondary face-off between Alex and Ruke that ends with a move I haven’t seen since Dredd.

Finality is what Breakout sorely lacks. With the promise of a sequel, there’s a bit of emotional action in the form of a final test for Vincent, but as a visual, it’s just a rather bland standoff. While the destination is immensely disappointing, the ride there is no slouch.

The Technics: Bills must get paid, so some filmmakers take on any job that gets thrown their way. Slagle, while inconsistent with concerns about the results of this journeyman ideology, gets Breakout right with few slip-ups.

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Pacing is the movie’s greatest asset. At barely 80 minutes before credits roll, it’s in and it’s out with plenty of action between title cards. Brevity can be attributed to a knowingness that audiences have seen a lot of the setup before, and to the fact that the filmmakers weren’t exactly flush with cash here. Despite this, cinematographer Noah Luke (Thor: God of Thunder, Moon Crash) gives Breakout a sleek appearance with plenty of good-looking shots and vivid lighting. Frankly, he made this movie look like it cost $10 million when it probably cost a fifth of that number.

Issues are unavoidable though, and for as much praise as the look of the film earns, it must be criticized for its profuse spilling of CG blood. Thankfully there are exceptions during major fights, but it’s always regrettable when present. The aural aspects of the movie are nowhere near as good as the visual ones. Foley work isn’t the strong suit, with sound effects that land with either too much or too little punch a frequent occurrence. David Bateman’s (Lord of the Streets, Damon’s Revenge) score isn’t half bad, but this being a movie produced by James Cullen Bressack (Fortress, Hot Seat), the soundtrack is abysmal. It’s a weird 50/50 where the two facets are almost entirely opposite each other.

Though it breaks no moulds, Breakout is nonetheless a swift, well-acted and action-packed B-film. Budgetary restraints, a weak soundtrack, and a dire lack of character bring it down, but the romp is enjoyable to the end.

Uncork’d Entertainment will release Breakout on DVD, VOD and Digital Platforms on April 11th. And if you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can offer up some suggestions,

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