Sunday, February 7, 2016

Newsploitation: Bringing F/X to Life!

We’re going to be doing a bit of a cheat today as I’m highlighting a film series that has two anniversaries a few years apart. Cheating, however, is totally okay when you are talking about the F/X film series as the lead character, Roland “Rollie” Tyler, is a Hollywood effects whiz known for a clever sleight of hand (and more). Yes, the highly entertaining F/X (1986) and F/X 2 (1991) are celebrating their 30th and 25th anniversaries, respectively.

F/X is a fascinating movie for many reasons. First, the script was written by two relative unknowns; Gregory Fleeman was a struggling actor making his writing debut and Robert T. Megginson was a industry vet as an editor and had also made the odd music industry parody PELVIS (1977). According to the New York Times, they originally wrote the screenplay as a possible TV movie, but the premise was attractive enough that it ended up at Orion Pictures. Another fascinating aspect is the storyline focusing on a Hollywood effects man who must use his wits to escape the mob and government after being hired to fake a death. Finally, it is the first U.S. theatrical vehicle for Australian actor Bryan Brown. Brown was already well know in his native country for films such as MONEY MOVERS (1978) and BREAKER MORANT (1980) and had caught the eye of U.S. viewers in a supporting role in THE THORNBIRDS (1983) mini-series. Playing opposite Brown’s Tyler character is Brian Dennehy as NYC cop Leo McCarthy. Both men would have a great onscreen chemistry.

F/X was directed by Robert Mandel, but he was actually not the first person signed on to make the film. In August 1984, it was announced in Variety that Roger Spottiswoode would start shooting the film in October of that year. The Canadian-born helmer had recently done UNDER FIRE (1983) for Orion. However, by March 1985, Spottiswoode was no longer listed as director and relative newcomer Mandel had taken over the directing. While the IMDb will list F/X as Mandel’s first theatrical feature, he had actually already shot the Michael Keaton vehicle TOUCH AND GO (1986) in the summer of 1984 but it didn’t get released until after F/X in August 1986. Orion got F/X to U.S. theaters on February 7, 1986. The film did debut in 5th place with a haul of $3,240,695. The interesting thing is the film only dropped a fraction (7%) in its second weekend and stuck around for a couple of months to earn a total U.S. take of $20,603,715. While it was certainly no blockbuster, the film did rather well for something headlined by a relatively unknown lead. Orion folks would later say that the film tested through the roof, but they had a very hard time coming up with how to market the picture (the U.S. theatrical poster is a bland B&W shot of half of Brown’s face) and that the title F/X was confusing to many people (they tried to correct this by adding a subtle “Murder by Illusion” in other territories).


While not setting the box office on fire, F/X did well enough and, despite its odd title, found a larger audience on home video. While Orion would have huge hits with DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), when they greenlit the sequel F/X 2 they were in the midst of some major bombs. The behind the scenes players on the further adventures of Rollie and Leo were interesting to genre fans. Australian Richard Franklin, who had done the impressive ROAD GAMES (1981) and PSYCHO II (1983), was hired as director (oddly, while reading an old Fangoria about F/X, the very next article in the issue was about Franklin’s LINK [1986]). The screenplay was written by Bill Condon, who genre fans would know for STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981) and STRANGE INVADERS (1983); it should be noted that the copyright database also lists one Lee Reynolds (ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD [1986]) as a co-writer, but Condon is only credited on the final film. F/X 2 proved that audiences did indeed get its title when it hit theaters on May 10, 1991 (yes, now you see my cheat as this anniversary is a few months away). Not sure the marketing folks got it together though as the U.S. poster is again an abomination (hey, at least they had two faces and a gun this time). Regardless, the film opened in 1st place this time around with a take of $5,455,058 on its way to a total of $21,082,165 at the U.S. box office.

The concept proved popular enough that five years later (what’s with the five years between F/X projects?) the syndicated F/X: THE SERIES came along in 1996. The series ran for two seasons and had Aussie Cameron Daddo as Rollie and Kevin Dobson as Leo (the character was replaced with a female co-lead in the second season). So, yes, the F/X concept had finally come full circle - originally written as a possible TV pilot, it became a successful movie series that eventually became a TV show. Hollywood is weird.

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