Wednesday, June 24, 2009

194) The Jericho Mile (1979)

194) The Jericho Mile (1979) Dir: Michael Mann Date Released (TV): March 1979 Date Seen: June 24th, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5

Perhaps there was something semi-realistic about the slang that the Folsom prison inmates spit out in Michael Mann and co-writer Patrick Nolan's The Jericho Mile in its time but I tend to doubt that their preposterous tough guy lingo just has not aged well. Though it does the film a small amount of justice by enunciating the cliquish nature of prison life, there is absolutely no way to take the film seriously because of its "jive" dialogue. It is not necessarily factually inaccurate to have contemporary prisoners say things like, "Hey, hey, hey! Boogaloo!" but that does not necessarily mean that it's convincing. 

Like many of the little visual details that Mann doggedly zooms in on  to provide the project with a level of authenticity, mostly tattoos and graffiti murals, The Jericho Mile strains like a constipated man praying for diarrhea to show that it understands the plight of its protagonists. How a tacky melodrama about the triumph of the human spirit over his own isolation, one that culminates in the breaking of a stopwatch, can do that is beyond me but apparently "boogaloo" is the nouvelle verite. 

By that token, what's endearing about The Jericho Mile is its painfully naive dedication to canned racial conflicts and pulpy insights into how the prison system really works (Why would anybody trust Brian Dennehy with something as important as arranging conjugal visits? Why, I ask, why?). This is the same kind of pleasure you can get from something like Bad Boys (1983), a prison drama about two feuding teenage jailbirds that makes up for its lack of believability with lots of testosterone-driven soap operatics. The key difference between the two is that The Jericho Mile's big release of tension comes from Mann's early fascination with slow-motion photoraphy, specifically in highlighting Peter Strauss' every bulging vein and rippling muscle. Trashy, silly but secretly hypnotic: now that's a show worth watching. 

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