It must have sounded good on paper. Director John Hancock, once involved with former convict Rick Cluchey’s San Quentin Drama Group, had for some time wanted to make a film loosely inspired by this experience. After developing a screenplay with his wife, Dorothy Tristan, about the subjecta group of ex-cons who put on a show about their life behind bars and take it on the roadhe struggled to get it financed, enlisting Nick Nolte to play the uneducated writer-director-actor who heads the group. But sadly, neither the script nor the direction is up to the job of telling the story coherently or effectively; the pacing and structure never click into place, and the film comes across like a sprawling rough cut, full of dangling threads and unrealized possibilities. Nolte, who starts out plausibly, is ultimately defeated by the film’s ellipses and discontinuities; John Toles-Bey, a promising newcomer who plays his jivey sidekick, gets killed off by the plot before his part can take full shape; and Angelo Badalamenti’s terrible score only adds to the general confusion. It all seems a genuine pity, because the ostensible themethe freedom and clarity that art can bring to confinementhasn’t been matched by the filmmaking. (JR)

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