FX2 – which is not subtitled THE DEADLY ART OF ILLUSION, that’s just a very memorable tagline, like DIE HARDER for DIE HARD 2 – arrived a surprising five years after the hit first film. It comes from a completely different creative team, but they’re pretty much all-stars. The director is Richard Franklin, (ROAD GAMES, PSYCHO II, LINK). The screenwriter is Bill Condon, who had so far done STRANGE BEHAVIOR, STRANGE INVADERS and SISTER, SISTER, but would be an Oscar winner before the end of the decade. And the score is by the legendary Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, DIRTY HARRY, PRIME CUT, HIT!).
It’s not any of their best work. Especially Schifrin – this is some cheesy-ass late ‘80s TV cop drama smooth jazz type shit. But in a mildly endearing way. And the movie as a whole is kind of the same.
Our first part 2 of the summer opens, of course, with another movie-within-a-movie fake out. This time what seems to be an ordinary New York City street erupts with crazy sci-fi violence. A convertible pulls up, and a homeless man hits on the “lady” driver with the very hairy arms, who (gasp) turns out to be a burly man with a vaguely Arnold accent (did they know this was coming out the summer of T2?) who gets into a shootout with cops, revealing robot parts beneath and spewing beautiful bright blue blood. “The Cyborg” is played by James Stacy, the star of Lancer, portrayed by Timothy Olyphant in ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD. Since he lost his left arm and leg in a 1973 motorcycle accident he must’ve even done the parts where his robot limbs get blown away.
As always in these scenes, we are to accept that several different angles, stunts and special effects gags were somehow done in one long take interrupted when an explosion doesn’t go off at the right time and the director (Leland Crooke, MAID TO ORDER) storms in and yells about it.
But this time the legendary FX maestro Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown, who since part 1 had appeared in TAI-PAN, THE GOOD WIFE, THE SHIRALEE, COCKTAIL, GORILLAS IN THE MIST, BLOOD OATH, SWEET TALKER and DEAD IN THE WATER) is not at fault. He quit the movie business after the whole hired-by-the-Justice-Department-to-fake-a-death-and-then-they-tried-to-kill-him affair. I guess he’s a toy inventor now, so he still uses his know-how to build fun little gimmicks. But this cyborg movie has nothing to do with the plot, it’s just filming on a street so Rollie watches from the sidelines with his girlfriend’s little bowl-cut kid Chris (Dominic Zamprogna, IRON EAGLE ON THE ATTACK).
Rollie’s girlfriend is played by Rachel Ticotin, who we just saw last week in ONE GOOD COP. This is not nearly as good of a role, just the hapless girlfriend who is completely forgotten about in the last act, but at least she doesn’t get killed like his girlfriend in part 1.
Chris’s dad Mike (Tom Mason, Freebie in the TV version of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN) is an NYPD detective who seems to resent Rollie, despite Rollie trying very hard not to interfere with his parenting. (I like when Chris is unimpressed by his dad giving him a walkie-talkie because Rollie already gave him “a Dick Tracy watch,” so Rollie tries to tell him why his dad’s gift is superior.) But he’s heard about the events of part 1 and asks Rollie to use some of that fancy Hollywood shit to help protect a woman from a psychotic stalker.
That conversation is pretty good. Rollie is like no, of course not, did you hear what happened? Are you insane? No fucking way! And Mike just doesn’t get it. To him it’s like, this is just my case, this isn’t some conspiracy. “It’s a straight up thing!”
But this is a sequel so at night his brain starts going and he starts sketching out how he would do it and then goes back and says yes. Think about what a nice guy Rollie is, that he would do this huge favor for his girlfriend’s ex-husband who doesn’t like him. (I also noticed later when they go to leave Chris with an older cousin it’s Rollie who does the talking. He seems to be friendly with his girlfriend’s niece – that’s above and beyond I think.)
The gig, as far as I can tell, makes absolutely zero sense. They’re concerned that this psychopath (stuntman John Walsh?) who killed a model but got off with a reduced sentence will kill the model he lives across from (Lisa Fallon, no other credits), so they lure him by having her get naked in front of her window when he’ll see it. But don’t worry: she’s not actually taking a shower! I mean, she’s there in a bath robe, but the shower part is a projection of her taking a shower, with a fog machine simulating steam in front of it. They sneak her out a door and Mike is there to arrest the killer when he comes in.
Except Rollie did a sculpt of the model’s breasts, which Mike is wearing under a bathrobe. They didn’t change his face or anything, just gave him boobs, and at no point does this disguise appear to serve any purpose. They make a big deal about there being a microphone inside one breast, but he wears the “Dick Tracy watch” to communicate with Rollie, so I don’t get it.
Anyway, there’s a good suspense-movie-shock when SPOILER the killer is approaching with a knife and suddenly someone else appears behind Mike and slits his throat. So this time it wasn’t Rollie being screwed over, it was Mike. (Another thing this has in common with ONE GOOD COP is a sad scene where the protagonist has to break the news to a little kid that his cop dad was killed on the job.)
Rollie is supposed to just think the guy from across the street killed Mike, but he saw too much because he put some proto-Go-Pro type cameras in there so he could watch from his van, and also becomes suspicious of the cops while picking up some of the kid’s belongings from Mike’s apartment. So once again he’s stuck in the middle of a complicated conspiracy that he has to figure out while using little illusion gimmicks, devices and explosives. This time it involves corrupt cops, stolen treasure, the Vatican, all kinds of shit.
Brian Dennehy’s character Leo comes in a little later than you’d expect, but also gets to take over the movie for a while. After the events of part 1 he quit the force and became a private detective. Also he bought a fully stocked bar that is not open to the public but just his home? And at some point her obtained Rollie’s horned monster dummy from part 1 and arranged to scare him with it.
The way they hold back Leo’s introduction is pretty great, though. Rollie calls and leaves a message saying that he’s in trouble. It’s implicit that although they haven’t talked in years this is serious and he knows he can count on him.
But Leo doesn’t call back, so Rollie seems to be on his own. He goes through his recordings from the camera feed (glad he bothered to tape them) and does the ol’ enhancing thing that movies back then pretended like you could do. There’s a great moment where the screen is paused on the face of Mike’s killer and suddenly the same face, the actual guy in person, comes into frame, approaching from behind the monitor.
So here’s where we get the biggest and silliest gimmick of the movie: the animatronic clown. Its name is Bluey, and he showed it off to Kim earlier as a potential super expensive toy idea. It’s basically like mocap, you wear a suit and move around and this full-sized clown follows your movements. So yes, Rollie manages to get the drop on this attacker by slipping on the suit and kicking the air so that the clown kicks him.
The list of things that don’t make sense about this Bluey fight is a couple pages longer than the list of things that do, but it’s hard not to get a chuckle out of it. Bluey really kicks this guy’s ass for a while, until the guy manages to grab Rollie by the throat and ram him against some shelves. So Bluey is on the ground struggling like he’s pinned down by an invisible strangler. Eventually Rollie manages to maneuver the clown and the guy over a ledge (his apartment is even cooler than the one he and his girlfriend had in part 1) and you wonder if killing a guy via animatronic clown has different legal ramifications or not. But then the guy pulls a The Shape and the fight continues in a nice nod to part one’s great struggle with the sniper – Rollie running around the apartment throwing chairs and lamps and shit, totally destroying his own belongings.
This long sequence eventually makes its way onto the fire escape, with the killer about to run over Rollie when another car heroically roars in and rams the motherfucker into pressed ham. It’s Leo, of course. Has not spoken one word to Rollie about what’s going on, but was there to save the day right when he was most needed. Great entrance.
The buddy stuff with Rollie and Leo is great, but Leo also goes off on his own to do his snooping, following the trail of an informant (Kevin J. O’Connor, VAN HELSING, THERE WILL BE BLOOD) working with an assistant DA he knows (Joanna Gleason, BOOGIE NIGHTS). Leo is a total charmer in this one – check out the smile she gives him when she sees him in the court room. It’s funny because he’s Brian Dennehy and also we get it because we all love Brian Dennehy.
One initially delightful sequelization aspect is that they actually bring back Velez (Jossie DeGuzman), the lady who looked up computer files for him. In fact they bring her back in a big way: yes, she continues looking stuff up for him, but although it’s indicated that they have not spoken since he didn’t return her call two years ago he reveals that he has purchased tickets for them to take trip to Jamaica together (!) and also takes her out for dinner.
I say initially it’s delightful because SPOILER she suffers a sudden shocking death at the hands of people trying to kill him. Man, that is cold to bring back a minor character knowing we’re going to say “Oh, I love that minor character!” and then pull this. To me the most enjoyable parts of the movie are the friendships – the ones between Rollie and Mike, Leo and Velez, and Rollie and Leo. Unfortunately, only one of those doesn’t end in tragedy.
I only noticed one new detail that we learn about Rollie’s fictional filmography: he did a movie called CHAINSAW SANTA. Sounds like he was more in the Jim Wynorski world than we thought. As you would expect and hope for in a sequel, he gets more elaborate with his F/X related trickery, kind of turning more into MacGyver than a movie guy. There’s a big chase in a closed grocery store where he uses barrettes, hairspray bottles and a lighter to create an exploding baked bean trap. (I’m partial to the part where he whaps the guy with two turkeys and then shrink wraps his head.) And when he packs a bag for the climactic battle it includes a whole bunch of dynamite, sausage links and instant mashed potato flakes. (When he used the latter it really didn’t seem to do anything, I think he overthought that one.) And of course he finds time to rebuild Bluey and use him gratuitously to fake pilot a real helicopter that he’s flying remotely (wearing the Bluey-mocap suit and virtual reality style goggles).
So that stuff is really more about “FX guys are problem solvers” than “FX guys know how to do FX.” Also I was disappointed that he didn’t ever use makeup to disguise himself. All he does is wear sunglasses and a Budweiser hat. Anybody could do that! But he does use some squibs and does a fire stunt with burned-face mask.
Maybe my favorite bit of, “Oh, come on” business is when a person is revealed to be a traitor and then Leo is revealed to have been on to the person and when they ask how he knew he is already holding between his fingers the name tag of the person’s cat because the name made him figure it out. And then apparently he thought “you know, I better steal this name tag and keep it in my pocket for later.”
(The traitor says, “I wondered where that went,” which I think means they realized how dumb it was on set and didn’t know how to fix it.)
I didn’t spot any interesting 1991 cultural references, unless you count a Johnny Winter concert flyer. But there is some computer stuff for the time capsule. Chris is ahead of the curve on tech because he suggests (and then executes) a plan of going to a computer store in a mall to send over the important McMuffin files from his computer game disk via modem. Oh, and Rollie drives a TransSport, a type of van that seemed futuristic at the time though it doesn’t seem very impressive now.
The special effects supervisor this time is Eric Allard (SHORT CIRCUIT, CLASS OF 1999, the Energizer Bunny) and the stunt coordinator is Gary Davis (KNIGHTRIDERS). Legendary stuntman Vic Armstrong is credited as a second unit director, and according to his memoir he took over as director for the last few weeks because Franklin “had some kind of personal problems going on.” Reportedly Franklin’s frustrations working on this movie caused him to give up on Hollywood.
F/X2 opened at #1 (above Blake Edwards’ SWITCH, which I’m skipping in this series, sorry). It ended up making a sliver more than its predecessor, but I think it was more expensive to make.
Early in 1992 Franklin directed the mediocre pilot-turned-TV-movie RUNNING DELILAH, but soon returned to Australia to make the dramas HOTEL SORRENTO (1995) and BRILLIANT LIES (1996). However, his last film VISITORS (2003) was, like most of his best, a horror film written by Everett De Roche.
Condon’s career took a different sort of turn. His next three projects were directing CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH, winning best adapted screenplay for GODS AND MONSTERS, and writing the best picture winner CHICAGO. Later he did DREAMGIRLS, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PARTs 1-2, and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. So he has remained the most relevant of any of the parties involved with this sequel.
Schifrin’s next movie was, uh, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. But his days of making cool scores had not passed. I won’t ask anyone to give Brett Ratner credit for anything, but he happens to be the one who brought Schifrin back to doing the good ol’ ENTER THE DRAGON shit on MONEY TALKS (1997) and the RUSH HOUR series (1998-2007). I also remember liking Schifrin’s score for ABOMINABLE (2006), a good low budget sasquatch thriller directed by his son Ryan. It’s kind of a riff on REAR WINDOW. Richard Franklin might actually have liked it.