Year Released: 1997
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan
(R, 94 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Drama, Mystery and Suspense
“You’d better pray she’s still alive.” Jeff Taylor
A breakdown on a desert road. A menacing pickup with an even more menacing driver. A local diner simmering with hostility. And, oh yes, a beautiful wife who has vanished without a trace.
Hold on to your hats. You are in for one rousing ride, an action thriller that delivers the goods big time. There’s hardly a minute to catch your breath, for the audience as well as the put upon husband, Jeff Taylor (Kurt Russell). First it’s a near miss on the highway as he tries to reach the water jug behind him and veers into the path of a beat up pickup in the other lane.
And that pickup driver is none too happy with Jeff when they meet up at the gas station /convenience store later. He’s wearing a wide brimmed white hat, but there nothing “white hat” about Earl (M. C. Gainey).
Well, the title gives away what is about to happen next. Now just throw in a little of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, and you have it. In fact, the film shares some other things with Hitchcock besides the plot premise.
It has an everyman, flaws and all, caught in circumstances he can’t control. And the police, true to Hitchcock’s somewhat jaded view of them, are of little or no help, at least not initially. Perhaps they might even be in on things, as Billy (Jack Noseworthy), a dull witted local, suggests.
Breakdown also has the outdoor action sequences Hitchcock displayed so well in North by Northwest. In the Hitchcock film Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill faces down a crop duster in an Indiana cornfield, while here Jeff Taylor fends off pickups and 18 wheelers. And Thornhill’s gritty, lonesome Indiana highway becomes a bleak desert highway surrounded by rocky bluffs and barren wasteland. No heights of Mount Rushmore here; instead a narrow bridge perched above a rocky river.
Jeff’s no urbane sophisticate often favored in Hitchcock fare; he’s a panicked husband whose helpless rage often alienates those who might help him. His hair trigger temper might be justified, but it doesn’t persuade the police to help him much.
But Jeff’s got John Wayne’s grit, and nothing, not even a raging river or eighteen wheels in motion, is about to stop him.
The film was a pleasant surprise. A 20-year-old film I had never heard of just released on Netflix promised a little afternoon diversion, nothing more. Instead, it never lost my attention, and just when it seemed to resolve itself, Breakdown opened up another unexpected thrilling action sequence. It reminded me of what Hollywood used to do so effortlessly, before they become enamored with comic book heroes, computer-generated imagery, and politically correct templates.
The stunts are real. No special effects, no miniatures or computer images to “beef up the action,” with the star himself doing most of the driving. Kurt Russell used to be a race car driver; he even won a world championship when he was young, which was “likely the best preparation for one sequence in the movie where Russell is barreling down the highway while several other cars try to run him off the road.” –Sherri Sylvester
Why trudge through the heat and traffic to go to the cinema, when you can get some classic action right in your own living room. Reminding us once, again, why the summer box office is in such a well-deserved decline.
Watch it today.
Jeff Taylor doesn’t want to leave his shiny new red Jeep stalled alongside the road, so he sends his wife with the friendly trucker who offers to take her to the nearby Bell’s Diner to phone for a tow truck. But she is nowhere to be seen when Jeff looks for her there later.
And the owner behind the counter is none too helpful or friendly, while the customers all say they haven’t seen her. Needles to say, Jeff is in a panic, and he spends the rest of the film in a frantic race to find her.
Too bad he can’t slow down to partake of the some of the eats there at Bell’s. So we’ll have to do that for him. What is better than some browned Diner Home Fries with a little crisp onion to spice them up?
And you might like to a few of these other diner favorites:
Diner Home Fries
Boiling the potatoes for this dish ahead of time and letting them cool completely, preferably in the refrigerator overnight, allows them to cook faster and brown better than raw potatoes.
1 lb. boiled potatoes, cold and peeled
4 tbsp. rendered bacon fat or canola oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 1⁄2 tsp. paprika
1 1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cut potatoes into 1 1⁄2" cubes. Heat 2 tbsp. of the bacon fat or oil in a heavy-bottomed 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add remaining bacon fat or oil, onions, paprika, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet with a metal spatula, until the potatoes form a golden brown crust and the onions soften and brown, 15–20 minutes.