Off the Wall (1983, USA)

Off the Wall - Rico Santiago (Billy Hufsey)

I think I made a mistake in reading Roger Ebert’s review of this film (which is also known as ‘Snake Canyon Prison‘), before I watched it. As a result I was expecting something truly execrable – but it turned out to be merely unfunny, in the manner of most prison comedies.

Rich kid Randy Whitby (Patrick Cassidy) and Latino Rico Santiago (Billy Hufsey) find themselves hitchhiking together in Tennessee. They get picked up by Pam (Rosanna Arquette), get drunk and are pretty much out to it when Pam is detected speeding and is pursued in a wild chase by the Police. When she crashes the car she runs off, leaving the two young men to be found intoxicated in a car that (a) is not theirs and (b) has just been driven very recklessly. They go to court and are sentenced to 6 months without being given the chance to protest their innocence. And so to jail.

A comedy is ordinarily (and fairly) judged by its comedic moments.  These are arguably the most significant of Off the Wall’s moments. You be the judge:

  1. The Warden, Nicholas F Castle (Paul Sorvino), is full of mixed metaphors, malapropisms and mispronunciations, with a particular (and frequent) inability to pronounce the name of his trainee sidekick, Wally Miskowitz (Dick Chudnow).
  2. There is a food fight amongst the inmates. Ho ho ho!
  3. One prisoner walks around the prison as if he were a chicken. He gets a visit from a woman… who also does the chicken-strut thing.
  4. As he descends into paranoia, the Warden frets over four paper clips which he believes have been stolen from his office. Miskowitz tries to reason with him: why would someone want to break into your office and steal four paper clips? “That’s what I’d like to know,” the Warden says.
  5. Pam visits the prison disguised as a nun, and later in blackface. She later commandeers a tank to break the men out.
  6. The guards turn a blind eye to, and ogle, a prisoner having sex with his visitor.
  7. Rico is conscripted into a wrestling match against some Japanese. He sees a weedy Japanese man and thinks it’s his opponent. His real opponents are Sumo-sized.

It’s pretty much Laurel and Hardy-type stuff 40 years on, and none the better for being 40 years on.

Off the Wall #2 - Randy Whitby (Patrick Cassidy) and Rico Santiago (Billy Hufsey) Off the Wall #3 - Wally Miskowitz (Dick Chudnow) and Warden Nicholas F Castle (Paul Sorvino)

Posted on December 28th, 2013 at 9:33 pm. Updated on December 28th, 2013 at 9:33 pm.

#476 in the Top 500

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