Thursday, January 20, 2011

FAST-WALKING (1982) - James B. Harris

Fast-Walking feels like a '70s prison movie that had the misfortune of being made in the '80s. It's an interesting mess of a movie with a lot of working parts that don't always work together. When they do, you get glimpses of the better movie it could have been, maybe one directed by Robert Altman or even Stanley Kubrick instead of longtime Kubrick producer James B. Harris.

James Woods plays a pot-smoking prison guard named "Fast-Walking," a perpetual scammer who keeps a lazy tower watch when he's not arranging prostitutes for horny local Mexican field hands or dreaming of retiring rich to an Oregon Indian reservation. He's also a pretty good shot with a long-range rifle. When a revered militant black prisoner gets transferred into his already racially tense lock-up, opportunity for Fast-Walking's big payday arises. He can either take the money his Aryan convict cousin is offering to take the black militant out or take the money the black militant is offering to help him escape. Add the slinky blonde femme Kay Lenz to the mix to confuse matters further, and you've got a plot busier than the prison weight bench at rec time.

There's an efficient little film noir in here somewhere, but director Harris never quite finds it. His tone tilts toward comedy when it should be playing things straight. He tips his hand and blows his ending when he should be keeping his plot cards close to the vest. Yet, this is still an enjoyable flick. There are some fine stand-alone scenes and character work by Woods, M. Emmett Walsh and Timothy Carey. And the scene where Kay Lenz "inadvertently" gives sweaty Charlie Cheswick from Cuckoo's Nest an eyeful during a routine prison visitation may rival the Legendary "Oh, Billy!" visit in Midnight Express.

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