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Off The Wall (1983)

Thanks to a penal-industry crisis that made abandoned facilities readily available, the ’80s saw a proliferation of films set in prisons: From Doin’ Time to Buy & Cell, numerous films peered beyond the forbidding gray walls of the nation’s penal institutions. But did they offer a true look at the facts of prison life? At least one moment in 1983’s Off The Wall suggests they didn't. After running afoul of the Powers That Be at Snake Canyon Prison, new arrivals Bill Hufsey and Patrick Cassidy are sent to its lower recesses. There, they encounter not the solitary confinement they expected, but a room containing a giant Komodo dragon—a feature that suggests either a certain amount of cinematic exaggeration, or a need for prison reform that far exceeds previous estimates. Cassidy and Hufsey play free-spirited hitchhikers who receive a ride from a liquor-swilling Rosanna Arquette just as her law-flaunting ways get the better of her. Cornered by Tennessee police after a chase accompanied by a strange hybrid of ragtime and bluegrass music, Arquette flees the scene of the arrest, leaving her passengers to take the rap. The two are immediately sent to a maximum-security prison, where Hufsey—during the course of a cafeteria sequence set to Joe Jackson’s “Look Sharp!”—unwittingly causes tension between two oversized, romantically involved inmates with a shared enthusiasm for wrestling. The situation is only exacerbated when crazed warden Paul Sorvino taps Hufsey to participate in an annual wrestling competition. Just when all seems lost, Arquette reappears to help the pair plot an escape, eventually devising a scheme that involves stealing an ambulance, a tank, a helicopter, and a tight-fitting nurse's uniform. When the big day arrives, not even the siren-like strains of special guest Mickey Gilley can lure Cassidy and Hufsey into another round of jailhouse rock as they leave Sorvino, Komodo dragons, and other prison enchantments behind and head for the open road.