Friday, February 19, 2016


Inductive spoilers
There are some motion pictures that grab you from the first viewing.  All genres.  BREAKING THE WAVES is one, an almost indescribably powerful gut punch that haunts me to this day.  But some popcorn movies likewise strike a nerve and stir emotions, if in a less dissonant and urgent manner. 1986's F/X has always had this intriguing interplay with my psyche.  It's a well produced, slick thriller that never fails to draw me in. Once it does, I'm highly entertained but also unusually involved.

Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) is a special effects/makeup whiz for the movies.   His oeuvre: mostly horror and action.  His NYC loft is filled with his masterpieces, including a six-foot high ogre that growls when you enter the front door.  Tyler's mind is always on his work, even when leisurely hanging with his girlfriend while preparing dinner: "Bok choy would make good alien flesh", he informs her.   One day he gets an invitation from the Justice Department to stage the phony assassination of Mob stooge Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach), who is about to testify against his former peeps.  Rollie is promised a solid payday and assured that he will be protected after the job is carried out.

If you've ever seen a movie, you know that things don't exactly work out that way.  There are double crosses.  Rollie's girlfriend is murdered.  Soon on the run, Tyler discovers some serious corruption among those quoting the law, even the seemingly kindly old J.D. supervisor Mason (Mason Adams). Concurrently, homicide detective Leo (Brian Dennehy at his rumpled best) - who's long been on the trail of DeFranco - slowly begins to solve the mystery with the help of his slightly less sloppy partner Mickey (Joe Grifasi) and a flirtatious computer expert named Velez (Josie de Guzman).

F/X naturally provides its lead character with plenty of opportunities to flash the goods.  There are all sorts of tricks with make-up, mannequins, mirrors, and squibs, props that help Tyler stay ahead of his foes. Sure they're gimmicky, but they also service the storyline in ingenious ways. The standard chase sequence gets a nice punchline, for example. But I don't want to give too much away.  The movie works as a satisfying bread and butter police procedural, too.

Director Robert Mandel does some solid work, and uses Manhattan and outlying locations very well.  I especially enjoyed the sequence in Central Park.  Mandel uses reactions of passersby to great effect more than once.  The entire film is so well crafted that it feels immersive.  I'm in there, rooting for Tyler and Leo, almost like I know them. Ordinarily, characters in films or television programs are kept at arm's length.  Credit must also go to screenwriters Gregory Fleeman and Robert T. Megginson.  Good show, gentlemen.  I've seen F/X many times and always get lost in it, truly forgetting where I am.  As it should be.  Pure entertainment, one of my go-to movie pleasures.  Bill Conti's score is mostly appropriately low key and evocative, suggesting a certain sadness about Rollie and his plight.

The one debit: Martha Gehman's performance as Andy, Tyler's assistant.   Note especially the scene after Rollie speeds away, leaving her stranded in the middle of a street.  Her tantrum should be studied carefully by would be actors.  It is one of the most unintentionally funny scenes I can recall in any film.
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