F/X (1986) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence, some sexuality, and language
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Bryan Brown, Brian Dennehy, Mason Adams, Cliff De Young, Diane Venora, Jerry Orbach, Joe Grifasi, Martha Gehman, Roscoe Orman, Trey Wilson, Tom Noonan, Josie de Guzman
Small role: Angela Bassett
Director: Robert Mandel
Screenplay: Robert T. Megginson, Gregory Fleeman
Review published July 5, 2015
A modest surprise hit back in its initial release in early 1986, F/X wasn't box office gangbusters by any means, but it did manage to a top ten hit for several weeks, and to double its profit without a proven star, director, or screenwriters.
Bryan Brown (Cocktail, Along Came Polly) stars as Rollie Tyler, one of the best in the business of movie effects, especially when it comes to gory wounds and explosives. While in New York City on his latest film project, Rollie is approached by an agent in the Justice Department (De Young, Secret Admirer) looking to use the effects man's skills to stage a fake assassination of a mob informant (Orbach, Brewster's Millions) so that he won't be assassinated for real by the mob before trial. Tasked with playing the gunman, Rollie performs the public stunt without a hitch, only to find out it's a setup, and now he's a loose end that need to be cut off by powers much bigger than him. It's only Rollie and his skills out to clear his name and save his own skin, as well as a tough-as-nails NYPD detective named Leo McCarthy (Dennehy, Silverado) who smells that something isn't quite right in the reports he's been seeing on the case.
In a nutshell, F/X took some of the niftier aspects of the TV show, "Mission Impossible", and transported them into an everyman whose skill set just so happens to be in make-up, prosthetics, and practical effects -- his life has been spent in making you believe something is real that doesn't exist. However, the thriller aspects of the film for the audience is that we don't always know what is real and what isn't until it is revealed, as people can live who are really dead thanks to clever disguises, while others who die are actually still alive, due to staged assassinations involving blanks, squibs, and fake blood.
The plot itself hangs on some very flimsy explanations, and holes in that plot abound, especially during a climax and epilogue that ratchets up the implausibility factor beyond the breaking point for those who haven't already resolved that the filmmakers know they're making nonsense that will spoof dumb action-thrillers while also being an example of one. There's a casual air of self-assurance to its tempo and its characterizations that's refreshing, especially considering the novice status of the filmmakers. Any perspiration on their part to sell us something it's not would have likely met with disaster for a storyline that doesn't benefit from scrutiny.
It's all very silly, but F/X still entertains because of its colorful character actors, all of whom are very good in their respective roles, and the fact that there's something that's pretty fun about watching an effects specialist use his prodigious skills to turn the tables on just about every situation. It's a film with characters trying to fake out each other, but also about faking out us in the audience, so the illusion that it's really about something is the goal. Curtain-call end credits lift that curtain to let us know that it's all a performance, meant to be a smart-ass, semi-comedic bit of cinematic trickery itself, and nothing more than that.
-- The success of the film, especially on home video, would produce a sequel in 1991, F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion and a TV series from 1996-98.
©2015 Vince Leo