Picks and Pans Review: F/x

updated 02/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

Like a lot of high-concept Hollywood movies these days, this suspense film sounds more intriguing than it plays. F/X has a nifty premise: It tries to marry the tone of a Hitchcock thriller to the effects of a Spielberg opus. Like the heroes of first-class Hitchcock films, Bryan (The Thorn Birds) Brown anchors the action as an average Joe who gets enmeshed in unsavory circumstances when he momentarily gives in to his greed. He plays a top-notch special effects man, whose credits include Vermin From Venus and Rock-a-Die Baby. New York Justice Department officials ask him to stage a fake assassination of a mobster turned squealer, who will then disappear into the witness relocation program. Or so Brown thinks. The plot complication escalates. Brown becomes the hunted instead of a hunter and the movie totters. In addition to unreliable government types, he has on his trail an honest but nonconformist New York cop who doesn't think the mobster is dead. Although well-played by the reliable Brian (Cocoon) Dennehy, that character robs F/X of its tension and the no-exit paranoia that these thrillers must pivot on. He also robs Brown of his role. Didn't the filmmakers have any confidence in their hero? Surprisingly, F/X, which is industry lingo for "special effects," proves stingy with its own gimmicks. You might expect Brown to resort to a cavalcade of tricks. Instead, director Robert Man-del saves most of his tricks for the climax. Mandel, who made a respected first feature in Independence Day three years ago, doesn't deliver the technical virtuosity the material dictates, and he can't camouflage the script's contrivances. F/X could have been a freewheeling warning about the consequences of fantasy life. Instead it leaves an audience stranded in a no-man's-land of make believe. (R)

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