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MGM Studios DVD presents
F/X (1986)

"I'm a special-effects man. I deal in make-believe. I'd like to keep it like that."
- Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 21, 2000

Stars: Bryan Brown, Brian Dennehy
Other Stars: Diane Venora, Cliff de Young, Mason Adams, Jerry Orbach
Director: Robert Mandel

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific
MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:48m:13s
Release Date: June 13, 2000
UPC: 027616850782
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+B+ D+

DVD Review

The art of illusion has taken center stage in motion pictures these days; as one character says in F/X, "No one cares about making movies about people any more. All they care about is special effects." But making illusions on the screen is one thing, and making them work live is another, which is dependent on true mastery of the craft.

F/X centers on Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown), one of the great masters of special effects in cinema. Tyler is contacted by two Justice Department agents, Mason (Mason Adams) and Lipton (Cliff de Young), who make him a proposition: to stage a fake assassination of a mob stool pigeon, Nicholas De Franco (Jerry Orbach), in order to ward off a real mob execution. Things go horribly wrong, however, when Tyler agrees to help and finds himself wanted on a genuine murder charge, and the Justice Department trying to silence him. Only the many effects in his bag of tricks can keep him alive long enough to clear himself.

The "wrong man" theme is dealt with skillfully here, with a situation worthy of Alfred Hitchcock in his prime. Brown convincingly portrays Tyler as a real person, not an action hero, who is driven to desperation. The many effects he uses to evade his pursuers and thwart his would-be assassins are often amusing, though they sometimes seem a little pat, as if he has just the perfect trick to play at the right moment. That tendency toward coincidence is the one flaw in the story, which is highly suspenseful and briskly directed. The double-crosses which fill the film create an atmosphere of palpable paranoia, with mysterious assassins acting at every corner, and a lengthy trail of dead bodies complicating things further for Tyler.

The supporting cast also shines, from longtime character actors Mason Adams and Jerry Orbach, to Brian Dennehy as Leo McCarthy, the frustrated cop who is assigned to find Tyler. The relationship of the last two makes this feel almost like a buddy movie, although the two don't meet each other until nearly the end of the film. The score by Bill Conti is a little syrupy, as always, but it is generally unobtrusive. The pacing is brisk, with little downtime before the intrigue starts; the nearly two-hour running time passes very quickly.

F/X is a very entertaining little thriller that I recommend most highly.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The non-anamorphic picture is decent, though a little soft. Blacks are not quite as solid as I'd like, but are fairly good. Colors are generally naturalistic, and shadow detail is better than average. A fair amount of attention must have been given to compression, for the bit rate varies wildly depending on the scene; at its lowest the bit rate runs about 3 Mbps, up to as much as 7 or 8 Mbps at times. The source print is in excellent condition; I didn't detect any damage or speckling of any kind.

Although the release disc has a full-frame version included, our review disc was a beta disc that only included the widescreen version of the film. We thus cannot give any details on whether the full-frame version is Pan & Scan or open- matte.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is generally noiseless, with minimal hiss. Dialogue is mostly center- oriented. The surrounds are used primarily for music, with occasional effects surfacing. Response range is good and I didn't detect any distortion. The Spanish 2.0 mono track feels as if it has slightly better bass response than the English Dolby Surround track, but they are both quite satisfactory.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Chaptering is about what one would expect from a film of this length. No English subtitles are provided, but French and Spanish ones are. A booklet with production notes is included (but was not with our beta disc, so we have no opinion on the contents). Finally, there is a noisy, hissy full-frame trailer.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

A highly entertaining little thriller, although the reliance on the right effect sometimes feels a bit strained. One of my favorite movies of the 1980s, F/X is highly recommended, despite the lack of extras and the non-anamorphic transfer.


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