'Fortress' offers no protection against bad acting, boredom and other tortures

MOVIE REVIEW

September 04, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Evidently at least nine people in the world thought "Total Recall" was a great movie; "Fortress" appears to have been made by four of them for the other five.

Like "Recall" it's a mega-violent dystopian fantasy about mind- and dream-control set in an underground metropolis overseen by an evil bad actor.

Unlike "Recall," it didn't cost $80 million; $80 is more like it.

What does $80 buy you these days?

Not much.

For one thing, it buys you Christopher Lambert, a far-fallen star whose appeal has always baffled me. Long ago, in "Greystoke," he was the only actor who played Tarzan who made Johnny Weissmuller look good. Since then, he's scuffled out a living in weird, out-of-kilter thrillers like "Highlander" and "Knight Moves." Included in the $80 you also get Stuart Gordon, who some time ago made an astonishing outlaw masterpiece, "Re-Animator," a gore-fest that had both zest and wit and outrageous effects. But since then, it's been downhill. He may finally have touched level ground.

You also get a Sharon Stone look-alike named Loryn Locklin, who has Stone's blond hair and pert, upturned nose and the charisma of yesterday's unwashed gym socks. She wanders around in a torpor through the vapid doings of "Fortress," occasionally offering an elbow strike to an obliging extra who has politely presented his chin, but otherwise appearing quite lost.

The setting is a privately run prison sometime in the next century where "breeders" -- couples who decide to have unauthorized babies -- are sent to mix with other, more violent prisoners. The method of control in the prison, which looks like a construction site for a new hotel in Atlanta, is called "intestination." In other words, the nasty, evil, bad actor who runs The Fortress -- Kurtwood Smith, encouraged to play epicene diffidence as if his life depended on it -- can, at the flick of the button, give anybody a bad tummy ache. This means that most of the cast spends most of the time rolling around in the dirt and gripping their midriffs as if they've just scarfed down too many movie-theater nachos.

I should mention, for the weak of heart and strong of mind, that the subtext of "Fortress" is torture, and at any given instant you are not three minutes one way or the other from the viewing of some atrocity. That was also true of "Total Recall," one of the most violent hit movies ever made.

The plot of "Fortress" involves an elaborate escape attempt, none of the details of which are particularly imaginative. They get in a pipe and then they goof up the big computer and then they steal machine guns and kill everybody.

Creative or what?

But the most satisfying escape of the day was mine, from the theater, at movie's end.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Fortress"

Starring Christopher Lambert

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Released by Dimension

Rated R

**

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