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  F/X It's Just An Illusion
Year: 1986
Director: Robert Mandel
Stars: Bryan Brown, Brian Dennehy, Diane Venora, Cliff De Young, Mason Adams, Jerry Orbach, Joe Grifasi, Martha Gehman, Roscoe Orman, Trey Wilson, Tom Noonan, Paul D'Amato, Jossie DeGuzman, Jean De Baer, M'el Dowd, Angela Bassett
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) is one of the best special effects men in the business, and since leaving his native Australia he has never wanted for work in the American film industry, with a list of credits as long as your arm. Today he has been arranging a staged massacre in a restaurant for a ganger movie, and after successfully pulling that off, he is behind the scenes brushing up new makeup effects when he is approached by Lipton (Cliff De Young) who announces himself as a producer who would be very interested in joining forces with him on a new project. Rollie must admit he is intrigued, but when they meet the next day at his apartment, all is not as it seems: Lipton is no producer.

The creators of makeup effects possibly never received as much respect as they did in the nineteen-eighties when their skills came into their own, and big names were made, particularly in the field of horror which came to rely heavily on them for gore and monsters. F/X, on the other hand, was not a horror movie, it merely featured a Rick Baker type as its protagonist and capitalised on the notion that these professionals were essentially illusionists in a format that produced entertainment for the masses rather than impressing an audience of a few dozen in a nightclub or theatre environment. With that in mind, the possibilities for some real innovations in the storytelling truly opened up.

Yet you would be disappointed if you were anticipating something genuinely out there and wacky, as the script was more interested in the thriller elements over the capabilities of latex or even animatronics. In fact, the special effect it was most concerned with was fake blood squibs, which you did not especially need a seasoned makeup artist around to achieve, and the sense that the Rollie character was rather squandered in his own movie was difficult to shake: even his disguises could have been reduced to a fake beard or rubber nose, and you could buy those in the average joke shop. There was a semi-elaborate sequence where he created a Jerry Orbach mask, but it was no great shakes.

For suspense, that was, for whenever anyone was wearing an Orbach mask they simply cast Orbach to play the character, as if Rollie's abilities were indistinguishable from the real thing. Why Jerry? It was down to him playing a gangster character who wishes to escape his life of crime and start a new life elsewhere, so Lipton, who is actually a government agent, recruits Rollie to stage a fake murder in a restaurant (that's right, like the one which opened the movie in another display of a lack of imagination). Thereafter, the mafioso can pretend to be dead and start over with a new identity. However, the film's strength was its willingness to go for the twist, and there would be a fair few before the end credits rolled, the first (or was it the second?) that Rollie, who pulled the trigger on the gangster, might have murdered him.

Or committed manslaughter, anyway, as he suspects Lipton tampered with the blank ammunition and real bullets had been substituted. Time and again, there was a big reveal like a magician going, "Ta-da!", suggesting either this would have been better as an episode of Jonathan Creek or the hit movie of the future that owed something to this, Now You See Me. Then again, there was another genre this wished to court, and that was the action flick, so there were shootouts and car chases thrown into the mix for good measure, but increasingly you began to wonder when this was going to make the most of its premise. Brian Dennehy was the co-star, and he was the cop on Rollie's trail, fitting the jigsaw together but not sharing a scene with Brown till the very end, which was a pity as you imagine they would have had some chemistry in a buddy movie of the eighties. As it was, the sole sequence that took advantage of the ideas was when Rollie stages an assault on the bad guys' headquarters, lifting this above average for about five minutes. Curiously amoral in the end, F/X was a little forgettable. Music by Bill Conti.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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