Escape from Death Block 13 (2021, USA)

If there’s genre of prison movies that sees the whole of a prison as one criminal enterprise, this would be in there; not just a few bad eggs, but an entire system openly engaging in criminal behaviour. How and why are trickier questions.

Into this corrupt prison world comes Miklos (Mick) Kovacs (Robert Bronzi), a 65-year-old Hungarian Charles Bronson lookalike. Mick had confronted the owner of a tyre recycling business, Albert Renda (Nicholas Turturro), with a demand for a $12,750 death benefit that should have been paid to the family after the ‘accidental’ death of his younger brother, Laszlo. Renda had mocked him and set his henchmen onto Mick, but after one accidentally shot another Mick was charged with the offence – with Renda laying the complaint. Everyone accepts that Mick will go to prison because Renda has witnesses lined up and the judge hearing the case is married to his sister-in-law.

Two very unconvincing law enforcement agents suggest to Mick that they might be able to get him out of prison earlier if he can get information on a rumoured drug operation, and hint that maybe Laszlo was killed because he knew too much. Mick doesn’t want to be a snitch, but keeps his options open.

He is deposited in the Pleasant Hill Penitentiary, Ohio (played by the Mansfield Reformatory, looking much shabbier than it did when it featured in The Shawshank Redemption). On his first night he is taken from his cell, repeatedly assaulted with a PR24 stun gun, and put in solitary. The next morning the Warden, Jaclyn Barzini (Debbie Scaletta), coquettishly sits on his bed in his cell and ensures that he understands that things could get much worse… or else he could join her team.

From there, few prison movie cliches are left unvisited. There are mess room confrontations. The Warden’s favoured top dog, Johnny Bunyan (Chris Hahn), fights another prisoner to retain his ‘King’ status while the guards lay bets and the Warden takes her cut of 50%. The cast of assorted prison characters includes the Wizard (Lee McNamee), who advises Mick to get himself a gimmick like him to keep others at bay – and then tells him of secret tunnels out of D Block, once used to convey the dead bodies out of the prison when it was formerly an asylum. There’s a stabbing, a murder of a prisoner by guards, and a shooting of one prisoner from the tower.

But the main game is the drugs. They are shipped into the prison from Renda’s factory, concealed in bags of recycled rubber which the Warden is innovatively spreading on the ground as ‘landscaping’. The large quantities of drugs don’t seem to be meeting any particular demand inside the prison (no-one is shown using drugs or under the influence), so one might wonder why they are not simply taken direct to the market.

The Warden twigs that Mick might be working with the Feds and sets out to have him eliminated; she gives that task to Bunyan, who wastes no time in shaping up to the Bronson impersonator. Naturally, though, Mick at 65-years-old is a dab hand at fighting, and when he gets on top he chooses not to kill Bunyan, even though he could have done so. Once they are removed from the battleground and secured, the miffed Warden dispatches the ‘doctor’ to give Mick a lethal injection, but a grateful Bunyan comes to his rescue… and with the rest of the prison population suddenly emboldened, a full scale riot erupts with guards taken hostage and killed, and all sorts of weapons abounding. One confident guard lays down his weapon (lest it be an unfair fight between him, Mick and Bunyan), and challenges them to unarmed combat. Silly mistake. Mick and Bunyan raid the prison armoury and arm themselves copiously, but are still very fortunate that the guards are clearly unpractised at shooting at targets.

They escape, of course (otherwise the title of the movie would make little sense), and through the Wizard’s tunnel, also of course. When the law finally catches up with Mick, at Laszlo’s grave, he is greeted with an immediate pardon, a reward, and a job offer. This is a refreshing change of fortune for the Hungarian, who could potentially have expected some tiresome court process to exonerate him, and maybe even some more tedious red tape processes to review his role in killing lots and lots of guards in the riot. Or his escape, for that matter.

This is nonsense movie-making. It is not for a discerning audience, and it’s hard to see it appealing much to a non-discerning one.





Posted on May 7th, 2023 at 1:01 pm. Updated on May 7th, 2023 at 1:01 pm.

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