There are days when you think you have everything lined up for a great evening watching a good movie – the film is Charles Bronson’s “Breakout”, made during the 1970s when he churned out a series of fine action flicks, the cast includes Robert Duvall, John Huston, Randy Quaid and Emilio Fernandez and it’s about busting someone out of prison. 

The sure-fire ingredients for a great Charles Bronson actioner, right? Not really. “Breakout” is a confused, muddled mess despite good performances by Bronson and Quaid.

Businessman Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) is framed for a murder in Mexico by his ultra-rich grandfather Harris Wagner (John Huston) and given a 28-year sentence to be served in a prison that allows conjugal visits by his wife Ann Wagner (Jill Ireland). 

After an attempt by Jay to bust out of prison by hiding in a coffin nearly ends in disaster, Ann hires Nick Colton (Charles Bronson), the owner of a struggling airline and a minor conman, to get her husband out of the jail. Colton ropes in his business partner Hawk Hawkins (a very young Randy Quaid) and an ex-flame Myrna (a great turn by Sheree North) for a series of harebrained schemes to get Jay Wagner out of the prison run by an oily warden (Emilio Fernandez).

One scheme even has the lanky Randy Quaid trying to pass off as a Mexican hooker (!) calling on Duvall at the prison.

I truly wanted to like this movie but its uneven tone is all wrong. It goes from dead serious to slapstick comedy in the span of a few minutes. We never really learn why Jay Wagner has been framed by his grandfather though there is some mention of the involvement of some CIA types. (Roger Ebert, in his review, says the movie was based on a real life incident. Maybe we would have been better off if the filmmakers had just stuck to that tale.)

Jill Ireland and Robert Duvall in "Breakout"

“Breakout” is available on DVD in Regions 1 and 2 in a great transfer that shows off Lucien Ballard’s fine cinematography. Recommended only for die-hard Charles Bronson fans.