F/X (1986) — Special effects can’t disguise a bare-bones plot

“You were great. Nobody dies like you.”

Justin’s rating: I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty

Justin’s review: As we all know full well, there’s nothing Hollywood likes to do more than talk about itself. Well, maybe give awards to itself, it likes that quite a lot too. And while I’m usually leery of the self-fixation that goes into movies about filmmaking, I’m going to give F/X a pass on that angle of criticism because special effects — and special effects artists — are pretty neat and often overlooked.

F/X kicked off an unlikely franchise in 1986 by tossing a special effects artist into a murder mystery. Roland (Australian Bryan Brown) is pulled away from his normal work on movie sets to help the justice department stage a murder of a mob boss in witness protection. When the job goes wrong, Roland finds himself fleeing for his life as the feds keep trying to kill him for some reason. Obviously, he’s been set up for an unknown purpose, but what nobody counts on is what a guy with a very, ahem, particular set of skills might do if cornered.

I think the pitch for F/X is something like “MacGuyver meets movie effects specialists,” but if we’re being honest here, this is a straight-up crime drama for three-fourths of its runtime. There are a group of cops, led by Brian Dennehy, who are trying to unravel this bizarre string of murders while Roland fumbles about trying to figure the mystery out from his perspective. I like police procedurals OK if there’s nothing else on TV, but I feel that I got hoodwinked with the promise of clever tricks and mind-blowing reveals and ended up with Columbo.

It does get in the territory of fulfilling its implied potential in its final half-hour, as Rollie and his assistant whassername turn the tables on the bad guys and cops alike. But I didn’t find all of the build-up that engrossing, even with a charming Aussie taking up a good portion of the screen time. Why this warranted a sequel and a TV series is beyond me, as the best I can say about F/X is that it’s adequate without living up to its potential.

Didja notice?

  • This fake movie might have good special effects but the acting is terrible
  • This guy feels very comfortable strutting around in his tighty whities
  • I like that they’re pulling pranks on each other
  • That’s one messy crime scene
  • Every  movie needs a good push-the-bad-guy-into-the-water scene

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