Another day at the courthouse and the female prisoners are being taken in to have their cases heard before the judge. One of them is prostitute Scarlet McGinnis (Tatum O'Neal), who claims to her lawyer that she can practically get out of a prison sentence on her own, so sure is she the charges are trumped up. Another is Tracy Freeman (Irene Cara), a middle-class girl who has gone off the rails recently thanks to personal issues; her surgeon father (Moses Gunn) is on his way to try and rescue her for attacking a police officer. However, when the first woman goes up to have her say, she starts singing and will not stop; the judge orders her silenced, so one of the guards goes up to her only to suddenly have his throat slashed by her concealed knife - then all Hell breaks loose.
Certain Fury was one of those items from New World post-Roger Corman, when their orange globe logo was a familiar sight to video renters across the nineteen-eighties if the video store was out of blockbusters and they were reduced to a cheaper alternative. This was undoubtedly a good example of that, a loose remake of The Defiant Ones that had brought racial issues to the silver screen in the fifties, though whether Tatum was a decent substitute for Tony Curtis and Irene was for Sidney Poitier was debatable. What was, er, certain, turned out to be the studio's propensity for cashing in on the artistic achievements of their leading ladies here: both had won Oscars, O'Neal for her debut in Paper Moon and Cara for writing the hit theme to Flashdance.
It may have been more significant that for one thing, Tatum's Oscar was for a performance delivered when she was a child, and her star had somewhat fallen since, becoming better known as "Tantrum" and for her stormy relationship with tennis legend John McEnroe in the tabloids than her acting roles, and Cara's award was not for her acting. They missed a trick by not getting her to trill on the soundtrack for this, which did not even have a proper theme song, so naturally most audiences were going to set their expectations rather low. They would have been wise to do so, and indeed this turned into a minor joke among those who had seen it (it dropped out of sight for decades before its revival on home entertainment).
On the other hand, just because you were watching a pair of celebrities in somewhat reduced circumstances, albeit reduced in the context of the movie, did not mean there was no amusement to be gained from watching them run around and swear their heads off. The bad language became the prompt for many titters at the time, as if the actresses were trying too hard to be tough in a gritty thriller, but just about every character they met was turning the air blue to a ridiculous degree - fair enough, it was clever to swear, but when Tatum gets called the C word by her junkie boyfriend (Nicholas Campbell) you did wonder if this was an attempt to shock that was having the opposite effect. Still, her Scarlet character had it easy compared to the determination the drama had to drag Tracy into the gutter.
Poor Irene was nearly drowned in a sewer, covered in rats, had a shower scene that was interrupted by the scuzzy boyfriend trying to rape her which led to a naked punch up in the bathroom, was injected with heroin against her will... the list of indignities went on, and you had to admire her for putting up with it and emerging as a sympathetic persona. Not that Tatum had it all that easier, as she got into a (non-naked) brawl as well that lasted for ages, and when guest star Peter Fonda, as a gang boss on his personal yacht, showed up he contrived to slash her face with his nail file: a woman's trials and tribulations are so much worse than men's, the message appeared to be. Naturally, stuffing this with so much incident meant it never dragged, not even when the two runaways from the courtroom shoot out (a way over the top sequence designed to grab the viewer from the first five minutes) had their heads to head and worked out their class and racial differences in lesson making scenes. It probably plays better with the passing of time than it did back in '85, as the female buddy movie remains a rarity even now.