Cable TV and some movies were just made for each other after all, late-night cable is there to feed you something when you're not in the mood to feed yourself, and its best fare resembles a frothy Taramisu: all custard and sponge-cake with a little bit of booze mixed in, and gone before you know it, which means you probably won't give it a second thought tomorrow. Everybody has their favorite high-channel delights, and ours is the clever 1986 thriller F/X. Directed by Robert Mandel, F/X stars Bryan Brown as Rollie Tyler, one of the best splatter artists in the movie industry, who travels from set to set with his truck full of gadgets, ready to load up a scene with radio-controlled switches and dye-filled squibs to create the perfect bullet-hole, head injury, or stab-wound for action and horror directors. But it is when Rollie is approached by Justice Department Agent Martin Lipton (Cliff De Young) that he has to make a larger decision than whether to use red dye number 3 or 5 the U.S. government wants him to stage the bogus assassination of Mob turncoat Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach), who is a prime target for getting whacked while he waits to testify in court. Initially wary of the proposal, Rollie soon takes on the job, largely out of the pride he takes in his craft and perhaps the idea of staging a splatter-stunt like no other, but he makes a crucial decision when Justice Dept. official Mason (Mason Adams) asks him to be the fake trigger-man for the job. It only a matter of moments after Rollie has staged his masterpiece that he realizes he's a patsy, but it's hard to know who set him up, or exactly why. Meanwhile, NYPD Lt. Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy), who first put the collar on DeFranco, soon realizes that something's afoot, and the gruff detective turns the city upside down looking for clues as Rollie runs for his life. While it would be easy to pick apart the finer points of F/X (the plot ain't that airtight, folks), it has two or three things going for it that have made it a durable action/thriller. Scenarists Gregory Fleeman and Robert T. Megginson drew from two stock screenplay items: films about making films and conspiracy flicks, and with the sustained growth of both horror films and such TV franchises as The X-Files, F/X has been an accessible paranoia-tale for several years now. What's more, while Brown and Dennehy are strong leads here, F/X is a film that needs a good group of supporting players, which the producers got. The professorial Adams is cast perfectly against type as the sinister Mason, while De Young is almost a precursor to the X-Files' Krycheck as the weasel-faced government spook Lipton. And it seems Jerry Orbach, familiar to fans of NBC-TV's "Law and Order," was born to play surly Mafiosos. Of course, there are always exceptions, and F/X actually has a doozy for such a fine cast, Martha Gehman as Andy, Rollie's special-effects assistant, may come up with the worst performance by any actress in a major motion picture. Seriously, she can't deliver a single line of dialogue without sounding like she's auditioning for a high school play. But it's a small part, and one we're willing to overlook. Good transfer (1.85:1 widescreen or full-frame on opposite sides) from a pleasant source print. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
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