The Deadly Art of Illusion, x2



It stands to reason that if you like F/X, then you’ll also like F/X2.  After all, they’re basically the same movie: Hollywood visual effects genius Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) finds himself in over his head after agreeing to use his unique skills to aid law enforcement in an all-important high-stakes matter.  But then, the walls close in on Tyler when the whole thing turns out to be a big fat conspiracy, and he’s framed holding the smoking gun.  (In the case of the first film, that’s a literal smoking gun he’s left holding).  From there, he’s gotta outwit the corrupt forces to clear his name and end the debacle.  They’ve got guns; he’s got glue, mirrors, fans, and smoke machines.

Another thing both films have in common is that the prominently billed Brian Dennehy doesn’t show up until midway through.  Dennehy plays an honest but hardened (and hard drinking) New York police detective whose bloodhound tendencies can’t help but suck him into the conspiracy, alongside of Tyler.  (The minor spelling differences between the two leads’ first names effectively thwarts any accurately written references to “double Brians”, doggonit!).  Dennehy’s late arrival into both movies is a rather transparent infusion of spark into the proceedings just as they’re starting to go a little stale.  

Dennehy’s insertion into F/X could be read several ways: A) The screenwriters got to halfway mark, looked at each other, realized their main idea had run its course, and shrugged.  B) Someone at Orion Pictures viewed at the rushes, determined that Bryan Brown might not be quite capable of carrying an entire movie on his own, and ordered another Brian be shoehorned in.  Or, C) Dennehy was game to be involved… but not that game.  His truncated stealing of both films (and he does indeed steal them once he shows up) may well have been the dignified actor’s equivalent of agreeing to an iffy in-person visit but going in with a firmly established out-time. (“It’s nice to see you- I can only stay for thirty minutes!”)

Whatever the case, it’s always great to see Brian Dennehy.  Australian actor Bryan Brown, though, should really not be sold short as the lead.  Brown’s steely-but-mischievous demeanor (His eyes!  His glare!  His hairline!  His studied way with the gadgets!) sells both the warped whimsy that any movie effects man wields, and the mounting life-or-death desperation of the character’s situation.  The premise of F/X (and by extension, F/X2) is actually a darn good one.  So good, they made it twice.  

If there’s a most unfortunate side to these films, it’s in their fantasized depiction of how movies are made.  Starting off a movie about movie people with a prolonged sequence of what turns out to be a movie being filmed within the movie was a movie cliche then.  The fact that the staged shootout- with its multiple locales, squibs, fire, and exploding blood packs a’plenty- goes off in one uninterrupted take is utterly absurd.  It doesn’t take a film critic with ample on-set experience (yours truly) to know that this uncut stage play approach is absolutely not how those sorts of movies are shot.  For a pair of movies in which a lot of their appeal rests in their promise of offering a glimpse at how visual effects are accomplished, such inaccurate movie-within-the-movie intended fake-outs undercut the whole thing.

So, here’s the goofy thing that I can’t explain… Back then, I utterly hated, hatedF/X2.  As a junior high-aged moviemaker of the late 1980s, the violently R-rated F/X was a VHS discovery that very much hit the spot.  Although my friends and I watched it a lot, it was never a movie anyone else seemed to know about.  So, imagine my surprise when, in the early summer movie season of 1991- a then-interminable five years on from the first film- a fairly high profile sequel turned up- in theaters!  Indeed, the PG-13 F/X2 is indeed basically F/X all over again, but bigger! (Helicopters!  Explosions!  Whole-street shootouts!  Even a glimpse of {gulp!} nudity!).  Aesthetically and in terms of scope, the sequel is as “1991” as its predecessor is “1986”.  But aside from that, these movies are, by design, an awful lot alike.  So why did I detest F/X2 so much??  It stands out in my moviegoing experience as one of the very few films I ever walked out of before it was over.  

Looking at both movies now, I legitimately can’t make heads or tails of my overreaction against F/X2.  It definitely outweighs the level of my youthful over-admiration of F/X.  Revisiting both films for the first time in many decades, courtesy of KL Studio Classics’ slick double feature Blu-ray package, it’s quite clear that youthful extremes dictated far too much of my analyses.  I’ve gone around saying for years that F/X2 is one of the worst movies I’d ever seen (part of).  As it turns out, it’s not that bad at all, not nearly.  It’s not that good, either… but neither is the first F/X.  Both films land today as comfy Sunday afternoon thrillers, and very little more.  They belong together.

While Kino Lorber has released F/X2 on its own in the past, this double feature package overrides that one.  The transfers appear appropriate to their eras, with the dark stripped-down 1986 vibe of F/X coming through as well as the sleeker, shinier vibe of F/X2.  Thankfully, the films are on two separate discs, each with a smattering of brief vintage featurettes and trailers that make up their extras menus.  Here’s the exact rundown of what you get:

  • On-camera interview with F/X Director Robert Mandel
  • The Making of F/X and F/X2 Featurettes
  • F/X and F/X2 Theatrical Trailers
  • O-Card Slipcase
  • Optional English Subtitles

Word has it that upon its release, actual VFX people were upset about F/X2’s having revealed too many of their “trade secrets”.  That line of promotional malarkey is about as believable as a so-so visual effect in a decades-old movie.  It only goes to show that for films that attempt to tantalize with the promise that “you won’t believe your eyes!”, they live up to that in more ways than one.  But, all is forgivable in the face of the united Bryan/Brian charmingly shooting the bull- if not shooting movies and bad guys.