Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) is an in-demand special effects artist for movies with titles like “Planet of the Female Mummies,” “Blood in the Basement,” and “I Dismember Mama.” He lives in a NYC loft full of movie props, is a regular guest at the fabulous flat of his beautiful actress girlfriend (Diane Venora, rocking those 1980s shoulder pads), and works with a cute tomboyish assistant (Martha Gehman). He also looks really good with his shirt (and sometimes his trousers) off, which director Robert Mandel does not hesitate to demonstrate again and again. Rollie is a guy who has life on a string, and the only problem appears to be that “everything’s going great” doesn’t make for much of a plot.
Not to worry—screenwriters Gregory Fleeman and Robert T. Megginson have come up with a heck of a twist. It seems the Justice Department wants to hire Rollie to stage the murder of Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach), a mobster prepared to testify against his former organization. They’re afraid DeFranco will be killed before he can testify, so they want his former associates to believe he’s already dead. It’s nuts, but they’re offering $30,000, and Rollie knows all about staging realistic-looking shootings. In fact, he’s such an expert they want him to pose as the assassin. And he shouldn’t worry about having to pull a Michael Corleone and flee to Sicily after doing the job because, as the avuncular Colonel Mason (Mason Adams) assures Rollie, he’s “100% protected.”
Some movie phrases are a sure indication everything’s not OK, and sure enough, less than a third of the way in, Rollie (and the women around him) find themselves in a quite a different world than the one they expected to be living in. There’s a second story line involving Brian Dennehy as city cop Leo McCarthy, and eventually the two strands become one. It’s impossible to say much more without spoiling things, so I’ll just say that F/X richly deserves its reputation as a well-scripted thriller that showcases its talented cast as well as its many NYC locations.
Hollywood wouldn’t be Hollywood if it didn’t try to cash in on a success with more of the same, so the making of F/X 2 was probably inevitable. The only surprising thing is that it took them so long—from 1986 to 1991. The sequel, directed by Richard Franklin gets off on the wrong foot with a definitely-not-cool opening, in which an apparently beautiful women is revealed to be first a cross-dresser or transgender person, then a homicidal robot. Of course, it’s part of a movie within a movie, but the meaning is still clear—better to meet up with a nonhuman killing machine than with a person whose presentation or identity doesn’t match conventional gender norms. Sadly, you could probably get a similar response from some audiences today.
In F/X 2, Rollie (Brown) has retired from movie-set work and spends his days inventing cool new stuff, including a robotic clown that perfectly imitates the actions of anyone wearing a linked suit, and a female disguise that includes a call button in one boob. His hot new girlfriend (Rachel Ticotin) has a cute and computer-savvy son (Dominic Zamprogna) from a previous marriage (gosh, do you think he’ll have to rescue them at some point?) and his old pal Leo (Dennehy) is back. The cast includes several notable stage actors, including Philip Bosco, Joanna Gleeson, and Josie de Guzman, and a solid technical staff including cinematographer Victor J. Kemper (Toronto stands in reasonably well for NYC), production designer John Jay Moore, and composer Lalo Schifrin.
F/X 2 isn’t great, but it’s an OK watch when you’re not up for something more demanding. Brown is as charming as ever, the special effects are fun (I’m not sure anyone has yet topped the sheer nuttiness of the supermarket scene), but the plot, such as it is, is pure nonsense (the screenplay is credited to Bill Condon, but reeks of studio interference). And while I’m not saying this film drove director Richard Franklin back to Australia, it was the last film he made in the United States (and he left the production before filming was completed, so the last few weeks were directed by noted stunt coordinator/2nd unit director Vic Armstrong). | Sarah Boslaugh
F/X and F/X 2 are distributed on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Extras on the discs include a 14-minute video interview with F/X director Robert Mandel (who, rather surprisingly, had directed no action or special effects-heavy films when he was chosen to direct this one), a 14-minute making-of featurette for F/X, a 6-minute making-of featurette for F/X 2, and trailers for both films.