WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 56

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 56th WWW:

1) F/X:
I've always had the notion that this was one of the big ‘80s movies that I'd missed, that it was something my friends raved about. Maybe I was confusing it with something else, or maybe it was a big deal because Brian Dennehy was an alumni of my high school. I like his work, but he doesn't show up until halfway into the movie. The star is Bryan Brown, an Australian who looks and sounds really familiar, but who I couldn't place. Checking his credits now, I do kind of remember him from Cocktail as the mentor bartender. But here, he takes front and center as a movie special effects wizard hired by the witness protection program to help fake the death of a mobster, played by Jerry Orbach. Of course, things go wrong, and Brown's Rollie Tyler finds himself framed and on the run from the law. Enter Dennehy as a gruff cop who realizes some things don't quite add up. There are some great dated scenes with him working with the computer girl to piece clues together on a computer with glowing green type. Ah, the ‘80s. It's actually an interesting story, with some realistic fighting. In one scene, instead of being some Hollywood choreographed martial arts sequence, Rollie has a struggle with a hitman in which he hurls pots and pans and anything he can find at the guy. Ultimately, Rollie kind of becomes a special effects superhero, outwitting mobsters with smoke and mirrors and other tricks. Lacking a bigger budget, it all feels more like a television movie-of-the-week. While entertaining with some genuinely likable characters, it doesn't feel like something that was ever shown in a movie theater. Maybe I simply waited too long to see it.

2) F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion:
Against all odds, Rollie is back, so I suppose that's something of a spoiler for anyone who didn't see the first film. I won't go in to why it doesn't seem likely he'd be showing his face in public in this sequel. In any event, he's in happier times with a new girlfriend, though he's out of the movie business. He makes toys, from a helicopter that entertains his girlfriend's son to an animatronic clown that mirrors the movements of anyone wearing a special telemetry suit. His girlfriend's ex is a cop, and calls on Rollie's help to catch a killer. So Rollie dusts off the mirrors and smoke machines and helps with an elaborate sting. Something goes wrong, and the film kind of devolves into this cliché police drama about crooked cops, internal affairs, and stolen art. Rollie calls in Dennehy's Leo, now a private investigator, to help crack the case. The computer girl returns, and there's another unintentionally hilarious dated scene involving the transfer of data from a floppy disc over an old-school telephone modem. There's even some delayed “instant messaging”, perhaps the first time on screen. Maybe that was the appeal of these movies, while modems and oversized cellphones look silly now, they were state-of-the-art then. Rollie does step up his fight choreography in this one, and uses that clown to battle a hitman in a pretty fun sequence. There's at least one random and unnecessary death scene, and one or two predictable moments. It was definitely a different era for movie making, even if it did feel light like a television show. Maybe it harkened back to things like Columbo. Maybe it looked ahead to shows like Psych in which characters can still have banter despite the presence of a dead body each week. Brown and Dennehy are certainly charismatic in their respective styles, and do get to play off one another more in this film than they did in the original. In the first movie they don't really meet until the very end, while here it's more of a buddy comedy. It's also the sort of movie that wouldn't work in this day and age of CGI special effects, so it is a good celebration of practical special effects. These films apparently inspired a series which I vaguely recall, but never watched. It apparently lasted for an impressive 40 episodes, so I may have to look it up some time.

3) Bad Company:
I'm not sure if this movie was boring, or simply not my cup of tea. Laurence Fishburne is, of course, a cool cat as always. A former CIA agent, he now joins some dubious private corporation known as the “Toolshed” which specializes in corporate blackmail. Frank Langella does what he does best as the sinister leader of this organization, and Ellen Barkin actually smolders as his femme fatale right-hand lady and steamy love interest for Fishburne. So there are three strong leads, and a nice film noir feel to the whole piece. Yet the pacing is very slow, and the plot isn't all that complicated. A man whose company is being sued for dumping toxic waste that poisoned one community hires the Toolshed to sway the vote of the judge trying the case, fairly simple given the judge's gambling debts. A lot of double-crossing is woven in to the plot as well, with a few twists, and you're never quite sure whether Fishburne is still working for the agency, or just working for himself, or if anyone in the movie can really be trusted. And then it's all wrapped up in one messy bow, and it's over. I think there was some fine acting, and the movie had a lot of potential, but lacked any real excitement. I was never really worried for any of the main characters, nor perceived any danger to them, at least until the final scene. And by then, most of the plot had already unraveled, save for a few loose ends that seemed to exist solely to extend the story to feature-length running time. As as rental it's okay, but I've seen better, especially from the principal cast.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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