Horror review: FX 2–The Deadly Art of Illusion

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On paper, everything looked good for the sequel to F/X, director Robert Mandel’s 1986 hit thriller. Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy, so fine as the special effects ace and workaholic cop in the original, were back. Aussie native Richard Franklin—a former student of Alfred Hitchcock who cut his teeth on the down under terror tales Patrick and Road Games before confidently following Hitch as director of Psycho II—was brought in to direct.

Screenwriter Bill Condon had struck a chord with fright fans on his first project, the New Zealand-made cult hit Strange Behavior, and gone on to co-write the comedic sci-fi spoof Strange Invaders. Then you had special effects producer Eric Allard, who was behind the wonderful Number Five robot of Short Circuit fame.

And luckily for thriller/action fans, in this case looks weren’t deceiving.

In FX2, Rollie Tyler (Brown) has quit the make-up FX business that nearly cost him his hide in the first film. He now uses his skills to manufacture toys, such as a show-stealing clown robot that copies the movements of anyone wearing a “telemetry” suit. Tyler uses this clever device—and scads of others that should remain a surprise—to hilarious, MacGyver-like effect while he and now-private eye Leo McCarthy (Dennehy) try to unravel a cover-up murder that involves the cops, the Mob, and 10 gold coins minted by Michelangelo.

On the downside, a pseudo-funk score grates during the opening credits, and the performances by Total Recall’s Rachel Ticotin (as Tyler’s love interest) and 11-year-old Dominic Zamprogna (as her kid) are lifeless. But the plot twists, the originality of the FX, and the interaction between Brown and Dennehy—which was lacking in the original—make up for minor weaknesses.

Dennehy is also great on his own, tracking down leads in true flatfoot fashion and gleaning information from various female friends with cuddly big-bear charm. He’s really the solid, human base that keeps this funny, far-fetched action yarn from becoming too cartoonish.

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