Brendan Fraser has inhabited a place in my heart not too far from Halle Berry. Both are performers that I found exceptional in one film, and then have spent years defending that one performance in the hopes that another good one will take its place. For Fraser, it was The Quiet American, for Berry, Monster's Ball. Then each year rolls in and I watch them waste away in films like Furry Vengeance or Movie 43, films so bad with performances so wretched that I have to wonder if the talent was ever there to begin with or if the film surrounding them was just that good.
With Breakout, Fraser continues his long tumble toward whatever detritus exists at the bottom of his well of performances. It's a staggeringly bad performance, one that puts to rest the idea that he was ever that talented to begin with. He rolls on the set like he just done with a bad night of partying with his fellow Airheads cast members, forgot to shower, decided to grumble his lines like he's Nick Nolte, and then toss the whole thing aside to scream at the kids he's supposed to be protecting.
If he had continued on with the performance he has at the beginning of the film I could almost recommend the movie as a bit of campy fun. Instead, his complete and total abandonment of the person he carves out for himself in the first half to become a boring stock action hero for the second just had me shaking my head in bewilderment. It's unfair to say that he's responsible for the film being a complete waste, because there's still the matter of everything else about the film barely functioning. But it's hard to imagine a universe where this was a man who once held any promise.
So Breakout is a title that doesn't fit the film surrounding it. Fraser plays Jack, a man who likes taking his daughter on nature hikes to parts of a nearby reservation that are almost burnt down to the ground. After solemnly promising his daughter that he'll do whatever he needs to protect the forest, the film inexplicably cuts to seven years later where the forest, vibrant and healthy, is in danger of being cut down by an evil corporation. Considering the lush wilderness that surrounds them after seven years of desolation, I'm more interested in how they reforested the land so quickly because that could lead to wonderful sustainable development.
But the corporate entities are not the bad guys. Jack leads a horribly incompetent team of hippies to resist and accidentally gets one of the workers killed. So he goes to jail, while the film cuts back to years earlier to show him arguing with his wife about his involvement with the hippie commune. While Breakout tries to figure out what year it is the film constantly cuts to a low-rent version of Of Mice and Men with two brothers, the violent Tommy (Dominic Purcell) and Kenny (Ethan Suplee), who are on their way to the cabin where they can get away from it all. That is, if Tommy doesn't kill more people first.
The story is an absolute mess, veering wildly from year to year with little reason while excusing Fraser for large chunks of the film to watch his fictional family go camping. Since they'd need a damn good reason to have a parallel story of hillbilly violence next to this eco-terrorist stuff, the writers contrive a scenario where Jack's family witnesses Tommy kill the man who was going to rent them the cottage. You see, the cottage was for rent, but Tommy's check bounced, and that made the renter angry, so Tommy decides to kill him...and so on.
The dialogue toward the end of the film consists almost entirely of, "Momma," "Dad," "Jen," and "Mikey," as they all scream at each other for help. As bad as I feel for the child actors, they at least get to run around and get some exercise. Lara Daans, as Jack's wife, sits around their empty home looking worried and talking into a cell phone the whole time. Based on the framing of her scenes it's entirely possible that she and Fraser used body-doubles for their scenes together and never even shared the same room. Every scene has this weird disconnect, like they could only get Fraser for half the film and scrambled to fill the rest of it with anything.
I'd like to give director Damian Lee a pass for being handed a script this bad, but he's listed as one of the writers. The mystery remains whether the other writers, Christian Piers Betley and Deborah Wakeham, were all working together at any point or if they had written individual segments for different films and tried to force them together at the end. It's eco-terror meets relationship drama meets Deliverance with so many other films and genres thrown in for added spice. That's way too many ingredients for the pot.
This is a terrible film that would have barely been salvageable even if Fraser didn't seem duty-bound to portray Jack like a neanderthal. Had he continued with that full-tilt, I might have something to praise here. But since he wasn't even willing to follow that performance to its logical conclusion, I am left with what mess Breakout leaves behind.
Directed by Damian Lee.
Screenplay written by Lee, Christian Piers Betley, and Deborah Wakeham.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Dominic Purcell, and Ethan Suplee.