Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bryan Brown, Brian Dennehy, Diane Venora, Cliff De Young, Mason Adams, Jerry Orbach, Joe Grifasi, Martha Gehman, Roscoe Orman, Trey Wilson, Tom Noonan, Paul D'Amato, Jossie DeGuzman, Jean De Baer, M'el Dowd
Written by: Robert T. Megginson, Gregory Fleeman
Directed by: Robert Mandel
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 109
Date: 01/01/1986

F/X (1986)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Use Your Illusions

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This first-rate thriller was kind of a "sleeper" in its day, earning good reviews from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, as well as Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris. It starts with a very clever idea; it likes to play tricks on us, but it never goes off the rails. When a gangster type, Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach), decides to testify against the mob, the Justice Department cooks up a scheme to make it seem as if DeFranco is dead. So they hire movie special effects guru Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) to pull off a fake "murder."

Of course he's double-crossed and becomes a target himself. He must rely on all his movie training to evade and trick the bad guys and set things right. Meanwhile, police detective Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy) tries to solve the case from the other end; interestingly, these two heroes don't meet until the very end.

Robert Mandel directs with a winning energy, never getting too slick, but remaining interested in the human angle. He also uses New York City to fine effect. An excellent supporting cast helps out, including Diane Venora as Rollie's girlfriend, Cliff De Young as a shady Justice Department agent, Mason Adams as a Justice Department head, Roscoe Orman as the police captain, and Tom Noonan as a creepy thug. Martha Gehman plays Rollie's pretty assistant (she's not much of an actress, but she's very easy on the eyes). Angela Bassett appears in an early role as a TV reporter. Bill Conti provided the score; stick around for the hilariously awful 1980s pop song "Illusions" over the end credits.

Kino Lorber rescued this one for a 2015 Blu-ray release; it's not a flashy-looking film, but the Blu-ray does it justice. Extras include a new, interesting 14-minute interview with director Mandel, a vintage making-of featurette, and trailers for this and the less-beloved sequel, F/X2 (1991), which was written by future Oscar winner Bill Condon.

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