Frank Miniver (James Woods) is the prison guard that everyone calls Fast-Walking. He’s involved in almost every vice that a man living in a small town in Oregon can be involved in. He takes bribes. He usually shows up for work stoned and what he doesn’t smoke, he sells to the prisoners and the other guards. He’s got a second job, running a trailer park brothel behind his cousin’s general store.
Frank’s cousin, Wasco (Tim McIntire), has been incarcerated and he expects Frank to help him take over the prison. At first, Frank has no problem working with Wasco and letting his cousin have free reign of the cell block. Wasco has soon established himself as the most powerful man behind bars. When a black power activist named Galliot (Robert Hooks) arrives at the prison, Wasco wants to arrange for him to be assassinated. Meanwhile, Galliot has offered Frank even more money to help him escape from the prison.
While Frank tries to keep both sides happy and make off with some money for himself, he’s also sleeping with Wasco’s accomplice on the outside, Moke (Kay Lenz). Originally, Wasco ordered Moke to seduce Frank in order to keep Frank in line but, as Moke and Frank’s relationship continues, Wasco starts to get jealous and starts plotting to put Frank back in his place.
Fast-Walking is a gritty film that features a good deal of dark humor. Unfortunately, the film’s many different parts never really come together and the film never strikes the right balance between comedy and drama. James Woods is perfectly cast as Frank and the underrated Kay Lenz does wonders with an underwritten role but Tim McIntire is a less than ideal Wasco. McIntire was a good actor but, physically, he’s all wrong for a character who is supposed to be so intimidating that he can walk into a prison and automatically take it over. Wasco is written and played as being such a cartoonish character that it’s difficult to take him or his plots seriously. The movie works best when it’s just focuses of James Woods’s nervy performance and Frank’s attempts to keep the other prison guards (including M. Emmett Walsh) from discovering his own racket.