BREAKAWAY (1996) is another off-brand VHS-only b-movie of a type I like: clunky and obvious, but keeps it moving enough to be fun and allow me to appreciate the bits of personality. It’s not to be confused with the BREAKAWAY that stars Dean Cain or the one in my head about a breakdancer recruited to be an international spy during the Cold War. This is the one that stars Teri Thompson, who other than this and MARRIED PEOPLE, SINGLE SEX mostly had parts like “Murder Victim” in DARK AVENGER and “Restaurant Woman #2” in ALMOST DEAD and “Dildo Girl (uncredited)” in SORORITY BOYS before creating a Youtube series understandably titled “Hollywood Is Hard.” Here, though, she comes off as a star, overshadowing the other unfamiliar faces until Joe Estevez turns up as a hitman who becomes the main antagonist for a while.
Oh yeah, and “introducing Tonya Harding as Gina.” TONYA & NANCY: THE INSIDE STORY mentioned that the infamous Olympian wanted to start acting, maybe on a soap opera or something. This is what became of that aspiration. (Her only other acting credit is a 2003 film called THE PRIZE FIGHTER.) Here she plays a restaurant manager who the main character’s bombmaker boyfriend is cheating with.
It opens with Myra Styles (Thompson) getting ready for work. A sexy getting ready for work montage of showering, sensually putting on clothes, putting on makeup, having a cigarette and coffee, all while the radio blares fantasies about retiring to the paradise of Fiji and not having to work. Carter (Chris DeRose, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, DRIVE with Mark Dacascos) spends his days on the beach (I guess bombmakers don’t have to work full time?) and tells her “It won’t kill you to take a day off work once in a while,” but she feels she has to bring home the bacon.
They do a good job of setting it up like she’s going to some soul-sucking corporate job, although the short skirt and stilettos are a weird match for the garish business lady top. Seems like maybe you wouldn’t want to wear that to the office, but it seems even funnier when she switches cars, drives into some sketchy part of town and goes to trade a briefcase for a lockbox of cash from some dudes in a warehouse. She’s a mob courier and I quickly learned not to question her fashion choices, because they don’t interfere with her beating up the dudes, taking the money, having a car chase and then shooting the other car causing it to crash and explode and explode her car. She just walks away with the money like nothing happened.
Note: Having her switch cars on the way to work is an unusually thoughtful detail for this type of movie. I’m sure they mainly did it so her car would get blown up and she’d still have a backup, but most wouldn’t consider that necessary to explain, and at the same time it’s the one acknowledgment that what she does is illegal and needs to be hidden. She’s very professional and takes her work seriously.
But the truth is she’s sick of this shit, and decides to 1) take this job and 2) shove it. Her boss Anton (Ray Dash, probly related to director Sean Dash) pretends to accept her resignation on the condition that she make one last delivery, but the money she brings to his nephew Nicky (Michael Garganese, his only credit) is really his payment to kill her. Taking a day off might not kill her, but retiring could.
She wants to skip town, but Carter says he needs a day to do something. That means she needs to hide out, so she decides to have a date with Dan Jordan (Tony Noakes, THE DENTIST), a random anthropologist/rugby coach who confuses her for someone else when she runs into an art museum to hide. He doesn’t see her beat the shit out of Nicky upstairs, so they go for a drive, some romantic silhouetted fencing on the beach at sunset, and an awkward night together in a hotel.
Anton’s henchmen are all kinda slow and there’s some successful humor about how much they piss him off. They don’t always have anything to do for him but when he catches them shooting hoops and taking bets he accuses them of skimming, and when he sees them standing around talking he fires a couple shots at them from his house!
Anton threatens Myra and Dan, so she feels she has to protect him, and brings him to a cabin with Carter. They’re all in the sights of Grey (Estevez), a hitman so unpredictable he finds Anton’s nephew, executes him in broad daylight in the suburbs and sends the boss a fax saying “ADD NICKY TO MY BILL. I WORK ALONE.”
I don’t know if that’s considered ethical in the mob world, but it upsets Anton enough that he yells “No. No! NO!” and tosses the fax machine off the balcony.
It’s complicated: Carter has Anton’s money, so Grey kidnaps Gina to try to get it, but Anton’s men are after Grey him for killing Nicky, so he goes into an abandoned building and gets Gina to wear his fedora and leather jacket. “Why? So I can be target practice?” she asks. That is clearly the idea, but it doesn’t work, nobody shoots at her.
While Grey sneaks around like a ninja somehow ambushing them one by one to choke out or punch in the balls, Gina takes off the coat and hat and goes to fight one of the guys herself, eventually kicking him down two flights of stairs and then strutting off. As far as I could tell she had no reason to help Grey, so I assume she just likes beating dudes up.
The main love triangle resolves itself when Dan is trying to hotwire Gina’s car to take off, but he hears Carter beating her up so he goes back to save her and then they’re a team, keeping Carter tied up.
There’s a strange joke when they hide out at Myra’s sister (Sharon Young, “Locker Room Girl,” KILLER WORKOUT)’s house. Myra only calls her “sis,” so Dan says “Good night, Myra’s sister.” And sure enough that’s all she’s credited as. She’s nice though because she takes them both in, shows them a picture of their parents and minds her own business while they have an erotic sex montage in the guest room.
There are a bunch of funny little bits. I like when the thugs threaten some guy’s “ugly drunken Irish face” and he asks “You know cultural slurs are a sign of ignorance?”
It’s all photographed very blandly, but you got all the requisite professional stunt work: car crash, person hit by car smashes windshield, bloody squibs, people getting shot and falling off of roofs or into swimming pools, exploding car, exploding house, people running around on fire with looped screaming, person lifted and thrown over ledge, people shot and tumbling down stairs, at least one gratuitous somersault during a shootout, one really good flip over a moving car.
Ironically in her quest to go clean Myra causes her square college professor date to kill a whole bunch of people, including one guy who has a gun to her head and Dan just theatrical edition Han Solos him. He seems to be okay with going from regular guy to killer of numerous humans out of the blue over night, but I am predicting that the psychological damage will never be repaired.
It’s too bad Thompson (now known as Teri Fruichantie) doesn’t have other movies like this, because it’s a fun persona, this pretty lady in skimpy skirts who takes no shit. I had a good time with this.
Director Sean Dash was making his debut after writing several low budget action movies and thrillers (including A DANGEROUS PLACE and FISTS OF IRON), but he never did another feature film. A recent Hollywood Reporter piece about BREAKAWAY concludes with him saying, “The fact that we couldn’t make money with that kind of press is what got me out of the B-movie business.”
Instead he got into television documentaries like Antarctica: A Frozen History and Prehistoric Monsters Revealed. He continues to work in television as a producer, writer and editor.
His co-writer Eric Gardner was also producer, editor and second unit director. The year before he had edited the famous TV special Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?. Being from Harding’s home town, he went to Portland for two days to convince her to do BREAKAWAY after initially backing out. Now he runs reality shows for Bravo.
Harding was still on probation at the time and had to get permission to leave Oregon to film. She got $10,000 for two days of work, and casting her got them so much attention they decided to upgrade from 16 mm to 35 mm film.
I cannot claim that her acting is good. I can claim that it’s bad. Though an L.A. Times article about the filming of the movie says she “draws unanimous raves from her co-stars” and that Estevez detected “raw talent,” she just seems like your typically wooden first time bit actor in a cheap-ass movie. Her lines are mostly sarcastic – in the article the filmatists describe the character as “feisty” – but she sounds so exaggeratedly bitter she comes across as a whiny grouch.
My favorite quote from the article, by the way:
“I took Mickey Rooney’s career out of the ashcan in 1971–we can do the same for Tonya,” agrees Ruth Webb, the partner of Harding’s talent agent, Sherri Spillane.
Honestly I think she would’ve gotten much better if she’d kept at it, but I guess she’s no early ’70s Mickey Rooney. It’s cool that she gets that fight scene, though, and it could almost be a commentary on her real life that she gets dragged into a bunch of trouble by a shitty boyfriend. Also she’s a secondary character who at the end (HUGE ENDING SPOILER FOR THE MOVIE BREAKAWAY  FEATURING TONYA HARDING) sneaks away with all the money to enjoy mai tais on the beach in Tahiti, similar to Milton in OFFICE SPACE. So for once she gets a happy ending.