April 12, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Fear" is efficient but limited. It's fundamentally an expression of every baby-boomer father's worst nightmare: His perfect princess of a teen-age daughter is swept up by a dark, beautiful and sexy stranger, and the father has to determine if there's real danger here or if only secret Freudian jealousies and fears of replacement are being twitted.

Of course in the world of crass thrillers, there has to be real danger so the more interesting of the two possibilities is soon abandoned. Mark Wahlberg plays a buff Seattle club cruiser who picks up bad girl wannabe Reese Witherspoon and comes on as Mr. Perfect to her father, wealthy architect William Petersen. But dad just doesn't like the kid, reading something smugly manipulative under his sleek exterior.

Father knows best. Wahlberg turns out to be a full-moon psycho with a penchant for rape, and soon enough he's leading a pack of droogs on what feels like a night assault on the prosperous family manse. "Straw Dogs," anyone?

Initially powerful and unsettling, the movie loses its hold when it becomes stupid and violent. In order for the plot's mechanics to work, the father has to be something of an idiot: He trashes the house where the kid lives, so that his pals are incited to assist him in his violence. Dad is as immature and silly as the boys are; they deserve each other.

** R (sexual activity)

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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