Friday, August 28, 2009

Film Review: RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985, Andrei Konchalovsky)

Stars: 4.7 of 5.
Running Time: 111 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Danny Trejo, Eddie Bunker, John P. Ryan (IT'S ALIVE, DELTA FORCE 2, CLASS OF 1999), T.K. Carter (Nauls in THE THING), Rebecca de Mornay, Hank Worden (THE SEARCHERS, STAGECOACH, the odd, milk-delivering waiter from TWIN PEAKS Season 2), Tommy 'Tiny' Lister (EXTREME PREJUDICE). Music by Trevor Jones. Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
Best one-liner: [makes flatulent noise] "That's your mother's farthole, Rankin. The bitch is LOUD."

"Existential." "Poetic." "Award-winning." These are not words I would expect to use while describing a Golan-Globus film. To put it in perspective, they produced DEATH WISH 3, RAPPIN', INVASION U.S.A, and MISSING IN ACTION 2 the same year (1985).

Now, the forces which collaborated to make RUNAWAY TRAIN a reality are simply mind-blowing: it began its life as a shelved Akira Kurosawa script, picked up by Cannon and adapted by Paul Zindel (Pulitzer Prize winner for EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON MARIGOLDS), Djordje Milicevic (Serbian writer of John Huston's VICTORY), and Eddie Bunker (former inmate turned writer/actor). Bunker (who plays a memorable role here), is likely the most fascinating of the bunch- he stabbed a boy in the eye with a fork at 15, he was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, he shivved a prison guard and befriended Danny Trejo (who makes his debut here), became buddies with Michael Mann after his release, wrote STRAIGHT TIME and ANIMAL FACTORY, and appeared in RESERVOIR DOGS (as Mr. Blue) and THE RUNNING MAN, among others.

Annnyway, Golan and Globus handed the directorial reins to Russian art house director Andrei Konchalovsky, and cast it with Hollywood powerhouses and Cannon heavies alike. Holy shit, what a combination! Our plot is this:

Two inmates- Jon Voight (a charismatic, raging grizzly of a man- "I'm at war with the world and everybody in it!") and Eric Roberts (who possesses a sleazy, oddly snakelike naivete)- escape the clutches of their steely, gum-chewing, mustachioed warden John P. Ryan

(who prays "God, don't kill them- let me do it!"), only to find themselves on a...RUNAWAY TRAIN. It develops into a brutal meld of TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3 and BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI that feels like a shiv to the palm.

It all ends with a Shakespeare quote, and your gut reaction is not "Damn, that's pretentious," but rather to catch your breath, wipe your brow, and make sure your guts are still there. Now, THAT says a lot.

-Sean Gill

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