Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin, Clifton Collins Jr., Lincoln Kilpatrick
Release date: August 5, 2008
In the annals of movie cheesedom, when all is written and the score is tallied, a special place in heaven (or hell) must be reserved for Christopher Lambert. Much like Robert Englund or Michael Dudikoff, his name on a DVD case is either a glaring sign of promise or a huge warning light, depending on how your movie bent on a Friday night is. Because after looking over his profile on IMDB, he has 58 credits to his name as an actor. Nothing in English is good. And yes, I am including Mortal Kombat and Highlander in this estimation, and you can’t change my mind on this.
I for one don’t hold much stock in watching a movie just because it looks cheesy or horrible. If I want to laugh, I’ll watch a comedy. If I want to watch someone make an unholy debacle out of decent intentions, I’d watch Fox News. But at least I stand by my taste and will say that I like Freddy Vs. Jason or Primeval because I honestly think they’re good. I won’t hide behind the “So-Bad-It’s-Good” bullshit.
No one will pick up the (kinda) new re-issue of the 1993 sci-fi effort Fortress because they’re genuinely looking for a good time. They’ll either cling to a fifteen-year-old memory, or look to point and laugh (because Lambert is in it). Anyone else will look for something newer if they’re honestly looking to be entertained.
But the goofy appeal of Christopher Lambert’s films is that none of them are in on the joke. They’re all made with a straight face. And I have a hard time imagining faces get straighter than Fortress, which is Grand Illusion in the future, made at a time when sci-fi didn’t have to have a point.
Lambert plays John Henry Brennick, a war veteran in the year 2017 who tries to sneak himself and his pregnant wife out of the country, because you can’t have more than one kid in 2017 America (their last one died). They get caught and chucked into prison, in the only instance ever recorded on any plane of existence where a Frenchman was kept out of Canada.
This prison, run by a corporation that apparently does nothing but manufacture prisons and make everyone’s life a dystopian hell, is presided over by Prison Director Poe, played by Kurtwood “BITCHES LEAVE!” Smith. He fits all the prisoners with “Intestinators,” which are little bombs set inside the intestines that go off whenever you try to escape. Brennick (or “Cool Hand Frenchie”) meets the usual stock prison movie characters like The Kid (a young Clifton Collins Jr.) and the Life-Serving Black Man (Lincoln Kilpatrick) and the Big Butch Shower Rapist (Vernon Wells). Also there’s a Computer Geek (Jeffrey Combs), because this movie was made in 1993 and every movie had to have a computer geek.
The script to this movie is laziness personified. It’s not exactly terrible, but in no way good. It’s more useless, so much so to the point that I wondered how the hell it got greenlit in the first place. I mean, we have a movie set in a dystopian future, but we never get an explanation as to how things got so bad that corporations started running everything. There’s only some backstory to Brennick’s character that he was in “The War.” WHAT FUCKING WAR? Who did we fight? Did we win? Did we lose? These things would be good to know, so some kind of stand can be made thematically besides “CORPORATIONS BAD!” This is, y’know, screenwriting 101.
The only thing worth recommending is the direction by Stuart Gordon. He has a better handle on the wonky setting and practical gore than the movie deserves. This is no surprise, as his varied filmography includes The Re-Animator, Robot Jox, Space Truckers, the David Mamet adaptation Edmond, and one of the precious damned few good Masters of Horror episodes. So this makes him kinda like Howard Hawks, only without the formidable company of actors.
What came to mind most during Fortress was how lucky we are to live in the age of geeky entertainment we’re in. In the sixties, the French discovered our film noir genre crap and rewrote the playbook on entertainment and art. The same thing is happening now, as we’ve discovered our own genre crap and opted to make it better. We live in a world where Battlestar Galactica can win a Peabody. We live in a world where Roger Ebert can put Spider-Man 2 high on his list of the ten best films of the year. We live in a world where the most staid and curmudgeonly among us can say with a straight face that a movie where one guy dresses up as a bat and another guy dresses up as a clown deserves a BEST FUCKING PICTURE NOMINATION!
This means that if there was no excuse for Fortress in 1993, there’s negative-fifty excuses for it now.
And Christopher Lambert can’t act for shit.
DVD Bonus Features
-FEATURES ‘N’ SHIT-
A word of warning for you fine folks. This is NOT a Special Edition DVD release. In the most ghetto-slash-awesome thing ever to happen to me as a film critic, a slipcover bearing the Lionsgate logo and this year’s date was delivered.
But inside the slip cover was a DVD and a DVD case from the now defunct Artisan Entertainment, dated 1999.
Yes, they’re making brand new slip cases and putting in old-ass DVDs that have been laying around for nine years inside them.
So do what I did and call bullshit. Don’t buy this fucking thing. Unless you REALLY NEED the production notes and the trailer.
*1/2 out of 4