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    Lockup cockup

    "Felon" falls back on prison movie clichˇs, squandering the talents of its noteworthy cast.


    For those of you who might be unfamiliar with prison movies, "Felon" is your tutorial, and director/writer Ric Roman Waugh takes great care to ensure that no dramatic moment goes by too quickly to see it, apprehend it, and then to stop caring altogether. The only part of the movie that moves too quickly is the opening, when we are not given enough time or access to be invested in the lives of this family. Too much of this film trudges laboriously through the clichˇd loss of dignity, loss of privacy, loss of innocence, and ultimately, loss of the opportunity to make something more interesting of this story.

    Written and directed by: Ric Roman Waugh.
    Cast: Val Kilmer, Stephen Dorff, Harold Perrineau, Sam Shepard, Marisol Nichols, Anne Archer, Nick Chinlund, Nate Parker, Greg Serano, Brittany Perrineau, Johnny Lewis, Chris Browning, Danny Samson.
    Choreography by: Dana Gonzales.
    Edited by: Jonathan Chibnall.
    The formula is easy to follow: Young man full of hope finds himself convicted of murder for defending his fiancˇe and son. The corrupt prison guards, led by Lt. Jackson (Harold Perrineau of TV's "Lost" fame), dig Wade's hole deeper and deeper, until Wade feels he has no choice but to completely inhabit the world he has been trying to shun, at the risk of losing his family forever.

    The cast is peppered with fine actors and some equally fine performances, yet our "everyman" hero, Wade Gordon (Stephen Dorff), has to struggle with his wife (Marisol Nichols) to find new meaning in the lines we've all heard before: "The law doesn't apply in here," he says from the inside. "Don't you realize that I'm in prison, too?" she cries from the outside. I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

    Waugh goes to great lengths to show the demeaning treatment of new prisoners and their visitors, adding some gratuitous nudity for good measure (my own prison fantasies notwithstanding, the scene in which a guard strip searches Wade's wife is little more than a peep show). Waugh is unable to give us anything new and interesting in life behind bars, and the actors battle against the mediocrity of the script. Even veteran actor Anne Archer has a tough time trying not to play the bitter single-mother stereotype that was written for her.

    The most interesting relationship in the film is between Gordon, played by Sam Shepherd, the retired prison warden who has befriended John Smith (Val Kilmer), a lifer who longs for death. This couple's storyline could have been given much stronger focus in the film. The quiet intensity of both actors pulls us into their worlds and makes us want to know and see more of them.

    The violence is pervasive, but not out of place. Mike Smith's fight choreography is believable and well-executed. Overall, however, the movie lacks a new angle for an old theme.

    JULY 18, 2008

    Reader comments on Felon:

  • Wow   from Mani, Mar 25, 2009
  • Felon   from Crystal R Blythe, Dec 12, 2010

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