while we try not to do tv movies, breakaway aka christmas rush seems too good to pass up. it’s a tbs tv movie from 2002 starring dean cain (tv’s lois & clark, tv’s ripley’s believe it or not, futuresport), erika eleniak (tv’s baywatch, under siege, playboy 1989) and eric roberts (best of the best 1 & 2, the dark knight, doa: dead or alive, sharktopus). it’s essentially die-hard-in-a-mall.
written and directed by charles robert carner (gymkata, witless protection), breakaway opens slickly with sped up shots of the city of chicago while the credits swoosh in that would not seem out of place in a 90s hong kong action movie or any of the rush hour movies.
the i.o.a.c. involves dean cain’s police officer in a stakeout in chinatown that ends up in a shootout. or as willem dafoe would probably called it, a fiiiiiiirefiiiiiiiiiiiighttttt. this sequence may not be all that logical but it’s a nice enough inconsequential opening action sequence that establishes the dean cain character. it’s good enough but it’s just too bad that no chinatown action sequence could top seagal’s out for a kill chinatown sequence. as far as i can tell, no one in this sequence is on wire.
this opening sequence is intercut with scenes of eric robert’s hans gruber talking to his team about the masterplan. the bad guys stands around a fiery metal barrel instead of a fancy house or a dim headquarter. it’s kind of like a hobo version of ocean’s 11. apparently they are in chicago and the place they are planning on robbing is chicago place (with over either 57 or 75 stores with untraceable and unmarked bills!), which is supposedly a fancy one-of-a-kind supermall. the same chicago that batman and the latest transformers are located.
maybe the reason they didn’t run into any dark knights or transformers is that even though the second locations are shot smoothly and stylistically in and of chicago, most of the movie involving the actors were actually shot in canada. my research indicates that there is indeed a mall called chicago place, at least until 2009. but that’s only the exterior shots. most of the movie is actually shot in a mall named portage place in winnipeg canada“. it kind of ruins your movie when the actual mall that you shoot your movie in, according to the website, has more than 100 stores but the movie decided to take the creative license to make it 57 or 75 stores instead. you don’t see that kind of modesty in the movie industry often.
after the chinatown shootout, we learn that the dean cain character actually is in trouble for shooting someone of importance, “the mayor of chinatown.” considering the chaos and bullets in that sequence, i honestly don’t know how this “mayor of chinatown” knows for sure that cain’s the one who shot him. there wasn’t bullet time or anything. but he apparently knows and we get a scene of cain’s police character getting his gun and badge taken away. this scene takes place in the police department building with tracking shots. it looks pretty cool but again, no one in the movie seems to be able to afford an office.
eleniak plays cain’s wife, who’s not too happy that cain’s out of a job right before christmas. she also works in the apparently famous mall’s jewelry store. it takes the movie all but about ten minutes to set up the hero, the partner, the wife, the villain. lest you forget that it’s christmas, there’s a children christmas concert where we meet the hero and the villain’s family. unlike the die hard movies, the hero and the villain actually meet before the main plot begins.
as soon as the bad guys enter the mall (in numerous group shot of bad guys walking towards the camer in slow motion shots a la reservoir dogs), breakaway is actually not a bad die hard-ish product, especially since it’s a tv movie. the elevator shaft scene is used early on though it’s scaled down from major motion picture scope so it’s just a freight elevator, not a skyscraper elevator. it’s kind of endearing that everything is a smaller tv movie version of its major hollywood counterpart. instead of a taxi cab or snowmobile chase, we get a more realistic small dune buggy chase scene in an underground tunnel.
there’s about an hour’s worth of cat and mouse and passable action scenes, including some improvised weapons. though one in particular is more home alone-ish than die hard-ish. i like how they show which store dean mcclane is going into during one of the cat and mouse chase. although they only did it a couple of times, and they don’t have funny names like rug munchers carpet store, burning flesh tanning salon, buy me toys toy store or fashionable male.
the principles are believable but like most movies, the lead villain played by eric roberts deserves a special mention. maybe it’s the screenplay, but he doesn’t do the typical action movie villain overacting cliche so popular in the 90s.
one annoying thing about the movie though is that they keep the commercial breaks even for the dvd release. so you get quite a few fade to black and than fade in for no reason. i know it’s a pretty low budget tv movie, but if they can make movies where kevin james is married to winona ryder, i’m sure we have the technology to take out the fade out/fade in breaks for the dvd release.
another big problem i have with the movie, and i can’t believe i’m complaining about this, is that both the good guys and the bad guys are extremely lousy shots. it’s a pretty common complaint for action movies but i don’t think it’s ever bothered me before. considering how many great to bad action movies i’ve seen, i’m not sure exactly why i noticed it this time. maybe it’s because the gunfight scenes are shot like john woo with slow-mo and two guns and all but the rest of the movie seems to be striving for realism.
the dialogues at times also sound pretty weird, like something out of a chinatown type noir. some annoying little kid mentioned wi-fi to the mall santa, so i am pretty sure the movie takes place in modern times. they also talk about chicago like they are in l.a. confidential.
i could also do without the scene with the hostages talking about christmas and all the p.c. stuff anytime someone mentions the word “christmas.” it does lead to a pretty funny/un-p.c. scene with rashid the muslim. with numerous strong religious elements in the movie, i guess it could be read as a microcosm of our whole country where even though the quote is freedom of religion, christianity is front and center the “normal” one. everyone else is either weird and foreign or trying to kill us because they hate us and jealous of our freedom.
on the other hand, it doesn’t do the a.d.d. editing that many direct to video action movies tend to do nowadays and you can actually tell what’s going on and where the characters are. there are also a few twist at the end that makes it more rewarding that it first indicates. no, not the bf injection chase.
breakaway (christmas rush)
the pitch: die hard in a mall
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: dean cain. he never went down to only his undershirt or shoeless but he did indeed get an eyebrow cut.
the gruber factor: eric roberts
the hans objective: money. although i didn’t think it was wise for the hero and the villain to meet in the beginning of the movie, they came up with a pretty good ending that makes it work in a surprisingly emotional way. his escape plan, when it’s finally revealed, is actually pretty brilliant. in that we believe that he could have gotten away with it.
wrong place at the wrong time: he’s trapped in the mall but only because he saw the bad guys and followed them, so he’s not that reluctant. the mall is closed and all the doors are booby trapped.
the help: for some reason he only calls his partner for help, instead of dialing 911.
the family element: dean mcclane’s wife is one of the hostages, cause she works in the mall. a bit disappointing that they didn’t give her much to do action-wise after being in under siege. i was hoping maybe she would stab eric roberts in the thigh or something with her jesus cross necklace. eric roberts’ motive also fit under this category.
bonfire of the weaponry: guns, grenades, bombs, booby trap bombs, crossbow, hockey punks, luggage, massage oil,
x-ray vision, dune buggies.
last man standing: surprisingly there isn’t a one on one ending but more of a hostage drama tragedy ending.
unbearables: it takes place during christmas like the first two die hard movies. mc-cain kills one of the bad guys brother. the wife becomes the star hostage because the villain knows she’s the hero’s wife. at one point dean mccain tied himself to a rope of some kind to lower himself to the level below, which is not as thrilling as the firehose sequence in the first die hard. the tunnels stuff is kind of like die hard 3 but without vengeance. there’s a vaguely european/physically bigger villain amongst the bad guys. the climax feels more like the final section in speed than die hard.