Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Fury"

I remembered seeing parts of this movie on cable in the early 80's, so I threw it in my Netflix que. Specifically, I recalled Kirk Douglas and Parker Stevenson on the beach, the latter using superpowers to send Arabs flying to their deaths off a Ferris Wheel, and eventually, Amy Irving causing a woman to hemorrage out of every orifice with her mind. You might ask yourself, "my god, how could you have such vague members of such a potentially traumatic feature." Possibly because the script was so half-baked I couldn't even get into it as a kid. This was Brian DePalma's follow-up to the much more memorable "Carrie," whose finale is still in my top ten nightmares, and pretty much a pseudo-sequal as well. They even got Carrie's frienemy Amy Irving to take her place as the bloodspilling psychic girl. However, DePalma employing all of his stylistic tricks at the time on a Stephen King adaptation is quite a different thing from a more resigned DePalma seemingly adapting a 70's comic book script verbatim.

Firstly, we have Kirk Douglas playing a C.I.A. agent who's teenage son turns out to have telepathic/telekinetic powers. All well and good, until his fellow agent and good buddy of 20 years uses evil Arabs to seemingly kill Kirk so as to increase his influence over the boy. Now, the seemingly not only reflect Kirk's survival and pursuit of his son, but also the doubt about the evil John Cassavettes motivations, since they're never explained. We never really see Kirk deny access to his super-spawn, and even though Kirk evades Cassavettes fellow government agents/minions for the rest of the film, he's apparantly too stupid to figure out his former buddy is E-V-I-L. Not only is Cassavettes a one note thug for the whole film, but when Kirk cripples him in the first reel, he runs around in all black with a sling pointing to his limp arm like a Bond villain from then on. Now, I did mention Kirk spends the entire film evading capture and tracking his son. I like Kirk, but that's exactly the problem. This was Douglas on the down side of his career, but this is still Spartacus at 60. Everyone knew and loved Kirk in 1978. It would have been like casting Harrison Ford in 1993 or so, before things really got bad (see: zombie Kirk of the 90's/ anything in the Flockhart years.) We don't need to spend literally half the film getting to know/respect Kirk, as that happened as soon as he put his clothes back on after the beach sequence in little more than a speedo. You have to use Kirk sparingly, because the movie is supposed to be about the psychic teenagers, not the adventures of a pensioner.

Secondly, and speaking of, we the audience don't like the kids. While Kirk's story eats up half the screen time, son Parker Stevenson pretty much disappears until well into the second reel, where he's turned evil by John Cassavettes in eleven months time off-screen. Seriously, Stevenson manages to be more wooden and less sympathetic than Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in whatever Star Wars: Last Gasp was called. "Revenge of the Sith," or was that Episode 2? Anyway, much like Jake Lloyd in the first installment of those disappointments, instead of having a menacing youth like Lucas Black set-up Darth Vader in short points, Parker goes from zero to asshole before anyone has a chance to care. No development, no bonding, just a creep (seriously) you want to see dead. Every single time we see Stevenson after his first appearance, he's murdering someone without just cause (in one case, a flat out hate crime massacre) or simply being an indefensable prick. It's hard to keep up the dramatic impetus when you're rooting for Kirk Douglas to give up and shack up with girlfriend Carrie Snodgress, because you know as soon as the film returns to Stevenson things will end badly.

Thirdly, Amy Irving could have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out for most of the film. My impersonation: "Oooh no! A terrible vision! I wake to someone bleeding nearly or completely to death because of me, and moan 'oooh' some more!" We get two scenes and a montage of her as an ordinary, uninteresting girl before she becomes the whaling seer. Her motivations for finding Parker Stevenson are also absent, as he seems unaware of her existance until the pivotal moment where he becomes, basically irredeemable. Is she so impacted by his psychic tumult that she's compelled to heal him, despite his obvious descent into sociopathy? Is there a sexual component, or a need for greater understanding of her power? I dunno! The movie is so concerned with advancing the plot through violent actions that actual character and motivation takes a back seat to one circumstance after another.

Fourthly, again speaking of, DePalma is clearly on autopilot here. The movie moves fast enough and is filled with enough solid character actors to help you forget its giant plotholes and underwhelming focal figures (Kirk excluded,) but lacks to verve one expects from DePalma. He seems to like framing Kirk, but otherwise only comes alive during the many excessively bloody sequences. We're talking Italian giallo level violence here, with literally puddles and whole drenched rooms at times. It is hilarious that the heavily edited all-audiences green band trailer would itself rate a PG-13 today. The film's conclusion can't even be shown on basic cable, for fuck's sake, based on a giddily repeated final image of ultraviolence that makes the David Cronenburg of 1981 look like a pussified latecomer to the party. These sequences are striking, if only by highlighting the lack of engagement on both DePalma's and the audiences part for the rest of the running time.

Fifthly*, most of this is moot, because if you're anything like me, the film was kind of a non-starter. As soon as Amy Irving is on screen (and again, an important element of that scene is left to the imagination in favor of a gag involving Douglas' character taking sitcom hostages,) you're waiting to see what happens when she meets Parker Stevenson. You expect that to happen by the end of the second reel, or at least a build in momentum toward this epic occurance. Yeah, no. They meet for a few seconds in the last ten minutes with questionable impact (no pun intended.) You also expect the movie to be about the psychics, seperately or as a duo. It really isn't. As Irving remains underdeveloped and Stevenson is a little seen but permanant asshole, more screen time is eaten by Kirk Douglas doing spy shit and going through motions best left off camera. Since the viewer is sticking it out more for Kirk's sake than the kid's, the assumed main story sits on the backburner while we passively observe his episodic confrontations with the bad guys until we realize that is pretty much all there is.

Finally, I again mention the Star Wars prequals, because like them this is a film I imagine the entire audience walking out of correctly presenting and debating better scripts for the movie they'd just seen. Some might look at the film's phyrric resolution as ballsy, but I suspect most would see it as among the first of DePalma's many disappointing fan disservices. Not only is a key element of the film's resolution nonsensical, but even if you're going dark, there were more fucked up and entertaining options readily apparent to any asshole who paid for a seat. It remains a shame that modern creators waste their talents remaking either great films into at best good ones to mediocre one-weekend wonders. "The Fury" is a perfect example of a film that is all potential and no realization, beyond a level of violence that would now imperil an R-rating. Someone really ought to jump on this bandwagon, but for goodness sake, take another couple passes at that screenplay. It's one thing to be a poor man's Carrie retread or a precursor to the superior "Firestarter," but when even Tobe Hooper's infamous debacle "Lifeforce" pays off better than your film, you've got to feel like John Cassavettes in that finale...

* Who ever makes it to fifthly? Is it even a word?)

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