There are a bunch of directors who made legendary movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s but in the ‘90s were directing, like, episodes of Timetrax and shit. One such director is Lewis Teague, who gave us the outstanding large animal pictures ALLIGATOR and CUJO, plus FIGHTING BACK, CAT’S EYE, THE JEWEL OF THE NILE and COLLISION COURSE. But after NAVY SEALS it was all TV for the rest of his career.
Oh well. It’s respectable work if you can get it, and at least his small screen period started with a pretty fun sci-fi/action movie for HBO. WEDLOCK (1991) (also released on tape as DEADLOCK) is a futuristic prison escape movie that came out less than a year before Stuart Gordon’s FORTRESS. It’s not as good, but it was first.
Rutger Hauer (WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE) stars as Frank Warren, who steals some diamonds with his girlfriend Noelle (Joan Chen, who had already been in THE BLOOD OF HEROES with Hauer) and his partner Sam (James Remar, BAND OF THE HAND). They get into the building disguised as janitors, he uses his electronics know-how to open the vault, and they leave disguised as cops. But afterwards Noelle reveals she’s with Sam and shoots Frank.
So for a second it seems like it could be kinda like a near-future version of POINT BLANK, but instead of returning for revenge he gets sent to an experimental prison called Camp Holliday, “the new jewel of maximum security institutions” and “an extraordinary penal experiment,” according to Warden Holliday (Stephen Tobolowsky right before THELMA & LOUISE). It’s a co-ed prison, with no cells, but separate dorms. There are also no fences, and the theory is that everyone will behave because they wear exploding collars. You’d think that would just mean if you cross a boundary your collar blows up, but instead everyone has a secret “wedlock partner” and if their collars get 100 yards apart they both explode. It’s an overcomplication that really makes their security worse, as the movie shows. And it doesn’t even address that since they give a warning beep when you’re a certain distance away they could all just run a test to identify everyone’s partners.
Other weird stuff going on here:
1) Everyone is assigned a color as their name – Frank becomes Magenta – and if they use any other name they’ll get “a day in the floaters” (a sensory deprivation tank). People always say RESERVOIR DOGS got the color thing from THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, but actually it’s from WEDLOCK. Tarantino was working at Cinetel rewriting PAST MIDNIGHT around this time, he probly watched the recent Rutger Hauer movies to get his voice down and got the idea here, please repeat that as fact everybody, it’s air tight.
2) They have a thing called “Magic Hour” where men and women are allowed to congregate and hook up. (That’s nice of them.)
3) Inmates have laminated UPC codes attached to their shirts – a thing that seemed futuristic then but kind of makes sense now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they really did that and scanned them for roll call and stuff.
Frank gets framed for having cigarettes (it’s a non-smoking prison) and gets locked in the floaters. The trouble is the warden knows about the diamonds, and Frank won’t give up where he hid them, so he’s in there long enough to grow a beard. And at one point the prison’s biggest bully Emerald (Basil Wallace, Screwface and twin in MARKED FOR DEATH) opens it up and pisses on his face.
Other colors in the prison include Jasper (Grand L. Bush, LICENCE TO KILL, THE EXORCIST III), Puce (Denis Forest, CLIFFHANGER, THE MASK), and Teal (Glenn Plummer, TRESPASS, STRANGE DAYS). Danny Trejo (also of MARKED FOR DEATH) is in it but he’s just “Tough Prisoner #1” because unfortunately he gets one line and then a scene where Emerald slits his throat.
There’s also this prisoner, real name Tracy Riggs (Mimi Rogers, THE MIGHTY QUINN), who keeps trying to talk to Frank, and he wants nothing to do with her until she leads him to a room during Magic Hour and then finally he’s like, oh, okay, let’s see what she has to say.
She’s not actually trying to fuck him, she’s trying to tell him she found out they’re wedlock partners. He doesn’t believe her but she forces the matter by stealing an ambulance and driving off with him. So it becomes a fugitives on the run movie with these two forced together by the collars, getting to know each other, falling for each other.
The warden wants them captured for diamond-related purposes, and he works with Noelle and Sam. To no one’s surprise, Tracy is also working with the warden, or at least was forced to do this as part of the scheme. Luckily she and Frank get over that relationship hurdle pretty quick. There are some gimmicks like Frank doesn’t make it onto a Greyhound bus that she’s on and has to hijack another one to chase after them so they don’t explode. And then they have another mixup and she’s running on foot trying to catch up with him, convinced she’s doomed. And best of all she gets taken down in an elevator and he keeps up by dropping down the outside of the building using the window washer’s gear. She’s totally shocked when she gets to the lobby and doesn’t explode.
I like that while Frank is taking care of his business with the crime partners who betrayed him, Tracy has a backstory about how her fiance’s family framed her for selling heroin so he’d marry someone else, and she’s able to interrupt that wedding. Good for her.
One thing that’s kinda cute is that it’s one of those low budget movies where they make things futuristic by raiding thrift stores and finding weird combinations of existing outfits, things that don’t normally go together, or things from different cultures. Also they’re in disguise anyway, and stealing other people’s clothes (including an African couple), so there are many opportunities for them to dress crazy. Frank is written as a cool tough guy with smart ass responses and everything, but I think Hauer prefers to make him goofy, and he gives him a funny Chicago accent. So that adds some flavor to it.
By the way, the beginning of the movie tells us this is set “sometime in the future,” but there’s a shot where we can see that GRAFFITI BRIDGE and MARKED FOR DEATH are playing at the Los Angeles Theatre! So some would argue this is a utopian future.
(Seriously though, look at how fancy this place is and imagine seeing those two movies as a double feature there. Likely a lifetime top ten moviegoing experience.)
WEDLOCK was written by Broderick Miller (SLAP SHOT 2: BREAKING THE ICE). Oddly, Miller is also credited as one of the writers of a 1995 TV movie called DEADLOCKED: ESCAPE FROM ZONE 14, which involves the same pair-of-exploding-collars premise, but no one seems to refer to it as a sequel, so I suspect it’s the same script rewritten with different names and details. Esai Morales gets framed in order to break out Nia Peeples
As far as Lewis Teague joints go this is no ALLIGATOR or CUJO. It’s also not one of the top ‘90s sci-fi action movies. But there aren’t enough of those anyway and this is one with more than enough unique ingredients to make it worth our time. One could also argue that it is an acclaimed motion picture, because it was nominated for an Emmy for achievement in sound editing for a mini-series or a special. Notably, it was up against CAST A DEADLY SPELL, but both of them lost to CRASH LANDING: THE RESCUE OF FLIGHT 232.