BREAKING POINT is an early Bob Clark picture in sort of a DEATH WISH vein. DEATH WISH came out 2 years earlier. Bo Svenson (who had already been in WALKING TALL 2, and is my favorite Buford Pusser) plays Michael McBain, a regular guy who’s walking home with his stepson late one night when he sees two gangsters beating a man to death in an alley. He’s an honorable, manly kinda guy so he fearlessly goes over to tell them to cool it. But he’s too late to save the guy.
And being that that’s who he is, of course, he’s willing to identify the two guys who did it to the police. Or at least that’s the plan, but everybody starts saying he’s crazy to get involved. His wife, his sister, his sister’s fiancee – all of them think he should just stay out of it. So he gets second thoughts, and pretends he doesn’t remember anything.
But, ah shit. He’s Mike McBain! He can’t live with himself after a sissy move like that. He gets third thoughts. He goes to the officer in charge, Robert Culp, and tells him he’ll identify and testify. Turns out his testimony could bring down notorious Philadelphia crime boss Vincent Karbone (John Colicos), who pretends to be a legitimate construction magnate, but we all know the score. Karbone is in the middle of building a deluxe housing development over an iron mine, a self-contained rich people haven that could be the setting of David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS. He’s on the verge of something big here, so he’s in a fragile state. It’s a bad time to fuck with him.
It turns out Mike’s cowardly family members were right. Getting involved was dangerous. Karbone sends his thugs after Mike and his family. This includes but is not limited to throwing a molotov cocktail at the kid. It misses and lights his real dad (Stephen Young) on fire. So that makes things a little awkward between dad and stepdad.
Even after the trial is over, when the cops swear there’s no reason to keep messing with his family, Karbone keeps after them. There is harassment. There are threats. There are murders.
They gotta go into witness protection. They move to Winnipeg and change their names and looks. Mike wears glasses, he looks like a professor. The trouble is the government can’t put up every last family member (what would the fiscal conservatives say?), so they leave behind the sister’s fiancee and the stepson’s father, causing trouble. The kid misses his dad, the dad is pissed that he doesn’t know where the kid is, this could end badly. Mike gets paranoid, but he’s right to be paranoid. He is absolutely correct that one of these chumps is gonna do something stupid and get followed by hitmen and get murdered.
So eventually Mike has to get to his titleogical breaking point. What makes the movie only okay is that that point only comes about 25 minutes from the end. That’s when he finally gives up on the system and puts his faith instead in how awesome he is at kicking ass. Instead of hiding he calls the motherfucker up, tells him he’s coming for him. Goes to a big party and threatens him to his face (he’s in the public eye, he has to play nice for the moment).
One thing I liked, they don’t mention at first what Mike’s job is until about 17 minutes in suddenly they show him instructing his judo class. So you know that’s gonna come into play. I didn’t know or I forgot that Svenson actually is an accomplished martial artist, having even been the Far East Heavyweight Judo Champion a good 15 years before this. You wouldn’t know it from the movie, though. It never turns into a martial arts movie, but he does grapple a guy in a filthy public restroom. He grabs the guy by the top of his head and sticks his fingers in his eyes and it looks pretty painful.
Best move in the movie is on the construction site, the only logical spot for this all to end. McBain sees his enemy silhouetted on the other side of a sheet, tosses a 2 x 4 that beans the shadow right on the head and knocks it over. It’s so cool (and hard to figure out how they did it) that it didn’t even occur to me until now that the 2 x 4 must be a WALKING TALL reference.
One of the guys he runs off the road, so it’s the cliche of the stuntcar that flies off a cliff, crashes, then explodes. Pretty standard stuff, but good set up for the very end when (SPOILER) he rolls the entire construction office off a cliff, and it also explodes after it hits. I’m not sure I could explain the science of that, but I like it.
BREAKING POINT was Clark’s next movie after BLACK CHRISTMAS. Other than a pretty stylish opening it’s much more filmatistically by-the-numbers and ugly than that one. To be fair, it’s a poor quality cropped transfer on the DVD, so it looks like any number of darkly lit ’70s movies you never heard of that you used to flip past on local TV channels on a Saturday afternoon. Writer Stanley Mann was the guy who wrote THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, he’s also credited with coming up with the idea of THEATRE OF BLOOD (a great idea), and later went on to CIRCLE OF IRON, DAMIEN: THE OMEN II, FIRESTARTER and CONAN THE DESTROYER. Co-writer Roger Swaybill was involved in LATHE OF HEAVEN and continued his Bob Clark collaboration with PORKY’S II: THE NEXT DAY.
I can’t say it’s a must-see, or even a might-consider-seeing, but it’s an okay programmer that takes advantage of Svenson’s charisma and physical presence. And that’s worth something.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.