Wedlock (1991) — Cruel and unusual punishment

“Can I be frank with you? You couldn’t turn me on if I had a switch.”

Justin’s rating: I sentence you to rewatch this movie for the next sixteen years!

Justin’s review: We really haven’t arrived in the future if society hasn’t designed incredibly wacky and implausible prisons. It’s pretty much a staple of the future, or so movies tell us: penitentiaries that are game shows or frozen asteroids or space stations or what have you. If we’re not goofing around with how we treat criminals serving time, then what’s the point of progress?

But for all of the futuristic prison movies that I’ve seen (and I have seen far more than you’d think), Wedlock may just take the cake for the doofiest premise. When jewel thief Frank (Rutger Hauer) gets betrayed after a robbery by his former girlfriend (Twin Peaks’ Joan Chen), he’s sent to Camp Holliday — a seemingly nice resort-like facility. The catch is that every prisoner is secretly paired with another one (male or female) and wears exploding collars that go off if their unknown “wedlock” partner goes more than 100 meters away.

The prison also uses sensory deprivation tanks as torture, has a sex hour every night, and calls every prisoner by a different color. A. Different. Color. My first thought is “What happens when they run out of colors?” and my second was “Wait, did they give our hero the name ‘Magenta?’ For real?”

Because Frank hid the diamonds before he got caught, everyone’s gunning to figure out where he stashed them — including Warden Holliday (Stephen “Ned? Ned Ryerson?” Tobolowsky). But the incredibly weird thing about this movie is that Rutger Hauer plays Frank as a nebbish wimp for the most part. I mean, this is that hard-as-nails replicant from Blade Runner that we all feared, and now he’s flinching at everyone going, “Don’t pick on me!” Oh, he says the sort of tough guy lines that the script requires him to, but he does so with such a lack of conviction that I wouldn’t be surprised if a poor intern was holding large postboard cue cards just off-camera for him to read.

Everyone dunks of Frank and Frank just keeps on taking it, at least until one of the female inmates, Tracy (Mimi Rogers), tells him that she’s discovered they’re both wedlock partners and can now escape. You’d think that Frank would leap at that, but… nope. He hates her for no reason and expresses every desire to stay in that hellhole. But when Tracy bolts after a prison yard fight (and two exploded heads), Frank has no choice but to follow or else see his own noggin attempt a launch into lower earth orbit.

I was really hoping for a lot more of a fun movie here, but Hauer’s lack of appealing personality and the costume department’s decision to throw him into a colorful sheepskin jacket doesn’t quite get us on board with him as a hero worth rooting for. Wedlock’s prison section is not as futuristic or interesting as you might hope, and the movie’s Fugitive portion is mostly Tracy and Frank bumbling around like Johnny Five during outtakes. Yeah, there are a lot of just plain weird decisions made with this flick — such as having a prison warden strutting in a smoking jacket like he’s going to the Playboy Manor, or seeing Rutger Hauer being peed on while in a water tank — but that’s only amusing if you’re watching this with a friend who likes to mock dumb stuff.

Wedlock does have its cult admirers, but I can’t count myself among them. It sounds way cooler than it ends up being as a result of uninteresting characters, an unfocused script, and unexciting stakes.

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