Western thrillers have made a spectacular comeback in recent years, with films such as Hell or High Water garnering both critical and financial success. The newest genre entry, LAST RAMPAGE, comes to us from director Dwight H. Little (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers) and follows the true events of Gary Tison’s infamous prison break in the summer of 1978.
The film begins with a riveting sequence as Gary’s three sons, two of whom have been conditioned by their mother to believe in their father’s innocence, break their dad and a fellow inmate out of prison. The five men lay low and attempt to escape into Mexico to claim their freedom, all the while being pursued by an aging lawman and his deputies.
LAST RAMPAGE shines most in the performances of its impressive cast. As Gary Tison, Robert Patrick commands the screen with his intimidating presence. The underlying anger of the character frequently boils to the surface, and Patrick is better than he’s been in years as he conveys an unhinged nature and gritty wisdom. The scenes of conflict between himself and his eldest son (Alex MacNicoll, holding his own against cinematic veterans) are arguably the greatest of the film.
Also notable are the always-terrific Bruce Davison, whose long career has set the stage for his subdued yet desperate portrayal of a hero trying to bring these criminals to justice, Chris Browning, who is as grimy as his appearance (think “Sons of Anarchy”), and Jason Richter, my childhood idol, who has replaced the youthful presence of his past career with a confident, scene-chewing demeanor and a rad mustache.
Little’s direction is an additional highlight of LAST RAMPAGE, staging suitably reliable action sequences that up the excitement of the film, and more impressively, wringing genuine moments of tension out of the smaller moments of dialogue between characters. Where the film tends to falter, however, is in its cliched dialogue, it’s one-note characters, and its reliance on a less interesting story between the mother of the boys (Heather Graham) and a reporter (Molly C. Quinn). Both actresses are great in their respective roles, with Graham stepping into a character that is unique among her filmography, but the storyline doesn’t pack the entertaining punch of LAST RAMPAGE’s other elements, nor does it have a satisfying conclusion.
All in all, LAST RAMPAGE is an exciting thriller with potent dramatic heft. It features great performances and a serviceable amount of tension. If it had traded its genre cliches for character depth, Little’s feature may have been unmissable. Still, flaws intact, it’s well worth a watch.
LAST RAMPAGE arrives in select theaters and On Demand/Digital HD September 22