Breaking Point

Director: Bob Clark             
Bo Svenson, Robert Culp, John Colicos

If you were to go up to Bo Svenson and call him a Joe Don Baker wannabe to his face, you can bet he wouldn't be very happy to hear that After making this movie, Culp soon met Svenson adding up his unemployment checks(though he'd be somewhat less unhappy just before he felt he had to rub his sore knuckles.) For one thing... who on earth would want to be compared to Joe Don Baker, an actor once of some prominence who faded away, but to reappear years later as a parody of himself? Though it's also very likely that Bo would be upset by that remark simply because it's more or less true. It's not just because he replaced Baker in the second and third entries in the Walking Tall series, but for the fact that, with a few exceptions like Special Delivery, he started to appear in the same kind of movies that Joe Don Baker was appearing in. In other words, cheap and cheesy B-grade action movies, among them Portrait Of A Hitman, Delta Force Commando, and Thunder Warrior I and II. With that setup I have just written, you are probably guessing that Breaking Point is typical of the product Svenson (as well as Baker) is known for. Not quite - see, Breaking Point is instead a cheap and cheesy Canadian B-grade action movie.

Actually, despite it being a Canadian production, it's not really any different from the American product Svenson was appearing in during this period. Those who are somewhat familiar with Canadian genre movies will have correctly guessed that the characters in this movie are American, and even though a little of the movie actually does take place in Canada, the majority of the scenes take place in America - no doubt due to the fact that the Canadians who worked on this movie believed that no one - Canadian or otherwise - would be interested in watching a movie about Canadians. (Which, sadly, is probably true.)

Still, you can still see a little Canadian-ness here and there, such as the movie taking place in the winter, and that Bo Svenson's character is a hockey nut. Named Michael, he works as a judo instructor (!) in Philadelphia. One night, coming home from a hockey game, he stumbles across two hoods beating the crap out of some nerd so much that the nerd dies not long afterwards. After chasing them away, Michael is asked by the city's police chief (Culp) if he'll identify the hoods and testify against them in court. First Michael seems willing.... then he isn't... and then (eventually) he breaks down and agrees to cooperate, in a long sequence that never gives us any real explanation to this erratic behavior of his. This is by no means the only puzzlement the movie has to offer - soon afterwards, it becomes clear that we will never find out just who that nerd was, and never find out why the hoods carried out a hit on him.

Putting that aside, I am fairly confident that you have some sort of idea as to where this movie is going. If not, let me just mention that previously we learned that Colicos checks how his career will soon look, sleeping with the fishesMichael is happily married, acting as a father to his cute stepson, and his wife carrying his biological child... that Michael has a sister who is engaged to a really really really nice guy... he has a good relationship with the actual father of his stepson... and he has a really really really nice lady working as a receptionist at his dojo. Aw, aren't they nice people?... Oh, spare us - I'm sure by now that it's obvious that with Michael going to testify against some shady characters, these lovely people are soon going to be under a major threat. Though this setup sounds really obvious in this description, it's actually plays even worse than it sounds, since all of these friends and family of Michael have been given no personality and only a smidgen of time - they are dragged momentarily to blab something inconsequential so we know they are there and that they're "nice", and subsequently they are almost immediately put to the side where they won't be seen until it starts to hit the fan.

The only thing surprising about this setup is that instead of the inevitable bad-guy-behind-it-all ordering his goons to finish off the hero is not going up for trial; here, it's the goons on trial and the inevitable bad-guy-behind-it-all trying to save them (though additional goons are brought in to do the job; the end results might have been more interesting had the B.G.B.I.A. actually done the work himself.) The B.G.B.I.A. in this movie is Vincent Karbone (Colicos - ever notice how many Canadian actors have unconventional last names?), a Philadelphia construction king that Culp's character is desperate to have thrown behind bars because... well, aside from authorizing (presumably) that beating, we never find out what's so evil about this guy. Heck, he doesn't seem to be that powerful, since he not only gets orders from an (offscreen) Godfather character, he only seems to have five goons currently on his payroll. Anyway, Karbone puts the heat on, but Michael holds out and successfully testifies, and the murderous goons are put behind bars. Even the dumbest criminal at this point would see it pointless to keep going after Michael and his loved ones, but the vengeful Karbone keeps it up, even managing to strike at Michael when he and the family go into hiding, blah blah blah - you know the drill - until the inevitable point when Michael decides he'll have to fight back by himself.

I might have sounded impatient in that last sentence. Well, it's not from the fact that it was quite predictable not long into the movie just what eventually was going to happen, but from the fact that it takes over an hour to get there. Not just an hour, but a very slow and mostly uneventful hour. This is one of the fatal flaws of Breaking Point, in that this warm-up is so badly handled. I think most of us agree that people attracted by the premise of the movie will be mostly attracted by the gimmick of an ordinary man getting the chance to inflict major damage against criminal scum. Of course, they will realize that the movie first has to take several minutes to properly set up the situation, so that the hero not only has proper motivation, but our blessing in our eyes. Breaking Point does do this, but stretches it out to unbelievable lengths, padding out the various tragedies inflicted against the protagonists with the protagonists arguing, wringing their hands, and trying to adjust to their new identities after going into witness protection. It may sound crude, blunt and uncomfortably honest, but face it - we watch these movies just to see some sweet violent revenge, not to see innocent people acting like wimps and dolts under pressure, especially for such unbelievable lengths of time. After all, a self-proclaimed action movie is supposed to have action in it. Though Walking Tall wasn't exactly a work of art, it at least showed the hero starting to fight back not long after he was first victimized.

Then when Michael decides to get going and fight back, it proves to be a big letdown. For one thing, since Karbone only has those five Shortly after the movie was released, Svenson disguised himself from hostile audience membersgoons, this certainly limits the number of action sequences, especially since one scene involves Michael fighting two of Karbone's goons at the same time, and an additional goon is later eliminated from the movie when he simply drives away and is forgotten about. That leaves just three sequences where Michael fights back, and though each sequence is quite different from the others, they are all equally boring. The fact that one of the cars in a chase sequence involves a Volvo(!) should give you an idea how sluggish this 30 m.p.h. chase is, as well as the fact that one part of the chase shows a long sequence of the other car stuck in the middle of road while trying to make a U-turn. The next action sequence is a shootout in a train yard, where no one else in sight despite it taking place in the middle of the day and that the train yard is right next to a commercial district. The unexciting techniques used by the participants here are nothing we haven't seen before, including the tired old "kicking the toilet stall doors open one by one" routine. And the final sequence at a deserted construction yard at night is equally sluggish, though there is one mildly eye-catching visual involving Karbone's office. After that, the movie finally has its mind to have mercy on its audience, because right after Karbone is taken care of, the movie immediately ends.

There is also a little action before Michael starts taking care of business, but it's even more poorly handled than what I described in the previous paragraph. One sequence involving an (implied) rape tries to be nasty, but the unsubtle way the woman's dress is ripped off right before our eyes provokes laughter instead of horror. The other actions the goons take are equally ridiculous, like when they apparently waited for one of their victims to walk up to the edge of a pond before chucking a Molotov cocktail at him. There is nothing frightening about Karbone or his goons - in fact, Karbone himself spends almost all of his screen time behind a desk. In a desperate attempt to make this seated character menacing, Colicos hams it up with screaming his dialogue with a very bogus European accent. He and his equally hammy goons come across as a bunch of incredible idiots, who only get away with what they are doing because the protagonists are almost as stupid as they are. Though Culp and Svenson don't overact, they give very lazy performances. When Culp tries to act intense, it comes across as a bad case of constipation, though in fairness to him he was also limited by the fact most of his scenes are also behind a desk. And while Svenson does have one good scene when he gets some bad news on the phone and struggles not to cry, the rest of the time he gives off an attitude that he just pain doesn't care about what he's supposed to do in any particular scene, that he's just going through the motions just hard enough to get his paycheck.

With the quality of the effort behind the camera, I can't really blame for Svenson not showing any enthusiasm. As I've already indicated, the script is derivative as well as boring, but there's also no effort to try and beef up the story with the direction. Veteran tax-shelter director Bob Clark (Porky's, Black Christmas), except for some fairly nice-looking night sequences, shows no sense of visual flair. He doesn't seem to think that there is more to directing action or even dialogue than just pointing the camera in the direction of whatever is happening. Every location looks shabby and unspectacular, and the cheesy feeling of this movie is accentuated by the gawdawful musical score, which blares its strident chords throughout the movie. The closest I can describe it with the written word is if a traffic jam managed to ingest helium. The electronic chords are so screechy and loud, not only was the dialogue frequently drowned out, it gave me a headache. That's no exaggeration - it gave me a bona fide headache. The opening credits proclaim "MUSIC BY DAVID MCLEY WITH A DIGITAL PDP 11 COMPUTER", and it's hard to believe the movie would proudly proclaim this - though maybe it was Clark's way to assure some of the inevitable blame would be assigned to someone else.

To be fair, I must admit that I found some parts of the movie entertaining, though Svenson carrying a big stick - never saw *that* before!not for reasons intended by the makers of the movie. I got a big laugh out of the extremely unconvincing wigs the family wears when they go into hiding (as well as the fact that with a beard and glasses, Svenson is made to look like a university professor.) Another funny part came when a shot of the CN Tower comes with "TORONTO" written in extremely big letters on the screen. But these and a few other unintentionally amusing moments in no way make up for the sheer boredom the rest of the movie generates. Aside from possibly being a tax shelter for Astral Films, I simply can't see why they went to all this effort to make something that had some big problems obviously visible even before filming started. Was there at any time in the past an audience for this movie? Could this movie ever find an audience in the future? The answer to both of those questions is the same for the question as to how often Svenson's character uses his judo skills outside of his classes - never.

UPDATE: William Olson sent this along:

"I read your review on Breaking Point, it's not a low budget film. Bob Clark mentioned it was the most expensive Canadian film back then (1976).  He said it was 3 million US.  3 million is 12 to 15 million in today's budgets!  Looks cheap, so someone got rich, probably Astral's producers.  I know 20th Century Fox only owns the US rights, so most likely Fox had nothing to do with rising of the budget. Svenson wasn't cheap, but not expensive. Oh well."

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See also: The Annihilators, Keaton's Cop, Legacy Of Rage