Mediocre: Jailbreakers

Jailbreakers (1994)
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Debra Hill, Gigi Vorgan
Produced by Lou Arkoff, Debra Hill, Willie Kutner, Llewellyn Wells, Amy Grauman Danziger
Starring Shannen Doherty, Antonio Sabato Jr., Adrien Brody, Adrienne Barbeau, Vince Edwards, George Gerdes, Sean Whalen, Talbert Morton, Charles Napier
Just as every moon orbits a planet, so too may every bored alpha female gravitate to a charming rogue. A pretty cheerleader (Doherty) in one such instance falls far and fast for a thuggish hunk (Sabato) governing a gang of greasers in tidy postwar Fresno. Captivated by his rout of rival bikers and the prowess with which he gloms hamburgers, cars and jewelry just for her, she inflames until their brief crime spree’s curtailed by his incarceration. His escape from prison enables them to reunite at and vamoose from her sweet sixteenth birthday party, but a reaffirmed adoration for her brainish beau is dampened by the murderous escalation of his criminality. His career here years into its doldrums, Friedkin shot this installment of the trite, tawdry, televised series Rebel Highway by rote; only a few wildly transgressive moments and tense handheld shots faintly echo his past ingenuity. Doherty and Sabato share considerable charisma and chemistry, but haven’t much to do when they aren’t smooching. Brody fares better (not too many years predating his stardom) as Sabato’s leathered, lovably lanky lieutenant, as do Barbeau and Edwards, Doherty’s typically concerned parents. Fair ’50s detail was imparted to this production’s set and costume design, and further fortified by a fleet of vintage automobiles. Regrettably, Hill’s and Vorgan’s skimpy script barely fulfills a brief 71 minutes, prompting the question of whether the former might’ve crafted an absorbing story with her ex-boyfriend. Only seven years prior, Friedkin was still dissecting criminal pathology; for this, he’s as much an observer as his audience.
Instead, watch Bonnie and Clyde.

Palatable: Someone’s Watching Me!

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
Directed and written by John Carpenter
Produced by Richard Kobritz, Anna Cottle
Starring Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Grainger Hines
Unsolicited, progressively suggestive gifts purported as promotional items delivered by a travel agency accompanied by menacing phone calls aren’t the sorts of romantic overtures for which a television station’s glamorous program director (Hutton) might’ve hoped when she relocated from NYC to her posh luxury apartment in Los Angeles. Her composure’s corraded by a stalker surveilling her with a powerful telescope and hidden bug until she enlists the aid of her apt production manager (Barbeau) and unruffled, professorial new boyfriend (Birney) to investigate her agitator as his advances escalate to murderous intent. Helmed with Hitchcockian pizazz by Carpenter months prevenient to the Halloween shoot, this televised umpteenth homage to The Master is essentially an inverse Rear Window replete with its bright, breathy lead, impuissant police investigator (Cyphers) and wireframe animation accompanying opening credits (evocatively imitative of Saul Bass’s NXNW introduction) that dissolves to a described establishing shot. It’s as tightly and cunningly composed as any of his most renowned flicks, and Carpenter enhances his script of modest ingenuity with considerable creepy devices at a painstaking pace evidencing a prowess that’s twice regrettably negated by the brazen swells of Harry Sukman’s overbearingly timeworn score; one can’t help but wonder just how much better this could’ve been if Carpenter — also a composer who’s always appreciated the petrifying potential of silence — had time and liberty to score his scenes. His cast’s every bit as competent: in her prime, Hutton’s a combatively appealing lead whose charisma’s occasionally overshadowed by the charm of the auteur’s future spouse, and both Birney and frequent collaborator Cyphers are unobtrusively fine, if typecast. If it’s the least of Carpenter’s early pictures, this derivative teleplay still patefies the idiosyncratic quality of his craftsmanship.
Recommended for a double feature paired with When a Stranger Calls.