Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language, and for Sexuality
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Troy Neighbors, Steven Feinberg, David Venable & Terry Curtis Fox
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Jeffrey Combs, Tom Towles & Clifton Collins Jr.
FORTRESS is a futuristic prison thriller from Stuart Gordon. If you know who Stuart Gordon is, then that statement should pretty much tell you all that you need to know about this film. If you aren’t aware of this cult filmmaker’s existence, I should tell you that Gordon has directed a number of B-flicks that range from delightful (RE-ANIMATOR) to pretty bad (CASTLE FREAK). FORTRESS finds someone giving Gordon a slightly bigger budget (8 million) than he was probably used to and him using it to craft a crazy B-flick that’s best enjoyed with beer and pizza. It should be noted that this film was a big success at the box office upon its initial release in 1993 (even inspiring a direct-to-video sequel), but it has since faded into obscurity. That’s both kind of a shame and wholly understandable. This is borders on so-bad-it’s-good territory throughout, but there’s something hugely watchable about it in a really stupid way.
In the dystopian world of 2017 (dun dun dunnn), America has turned into a Totalitarianist state with a strict population control law. This futuristic law rules that there is to be only one child per woman and that’s it. When former black beret John Brennick and his wife try to buck the system and head for Canada, they’re caught and sentenced to 31 years in a maximum security prison. This computerized penitentiary is owned by the corrupt MenTel Coporation, run by the evil computer system Zed, and ruled over by the tyrannical warden Poe. John Brennick soon becomes fed up with this harsh prison life and puts together a plan, with the help of his cellmates, to rescue his still-pregnant wife from warden Poe and escape the confines of the heavily guarded underground prison.
You should kind of know what you’re in for when Christopher Lambert is headlining a film. Though I only know him as Rayden from MORTAL KOMBAT (a childhood favorite of mine that has not aged well), Lambert was a raspy-voiced B-movie star of his time. In this film, he’s devouring the scenery and kicking ass like it’s going out of style. Loryn Locklin (who has a grand total of five titles in her filmography) stars as Lambert’s character’s wife and pretty much plays a damsel in distress who uses her feminine charm to aid the rescue mission. Lambert’s cellmates are comprised of a young Clifton Collins Jr., a Tom Towles who basically looks exactly the same as he does now, and Jeffrey Combs as a geeky hacker wearing ultra-thick glasses. Kurtwood Smith is delightfully over-the-top as Poe who milks the insane villain clichés for everything that they’re worth. The dialogue these performers are spewing out show that this was very much a 90’s sci-fi action flick. Two of my favorite lines are Jeffrey Combs saying “Right on, man!” when discovering a crucial point of the escape plan and Poe yelling at Zed that “you’ll be lucky if you end up as a speak and spell after this!” This film is kind of hilarious, whether or not it was intended to be that way from the start.
Aside from bad acting, a silly script, and cheap effects that have not aged well, FORTRESS is as ambitious a film as much as it is a cheesy one. There are lots of ideas at play including: monitoring dreams, over surveillance, futuristic computer run buildings, half-men half-machines, and population control. It’s almost like 1984 had three-way with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and HANDMAID’S TALE and this is what they pumped out. What’s really entertaining (albeit unintentionally so) is when FORTRESS tries to be very futuristic…but on a budget. It should also be noted that this film will please horror fans looking for an over-the-top gory flick, because the prisoners are all outfitted with devices called “Intestinators” that can explode at the slightest nod of the computer. As you can probably imagine, this leads to plenty of exploding people and giant gaping wholes in certain prisoners.
FORTRESS is a big dumb B-flick that’s loaded with clichés, corny effects, over-acting, and high concepts that happen to be executed in very silly ways. You know what, it’s damn entertaining…even if it’s for the “wrong” reasons. I very much enjoyed kicking back and watching this silly, silly movie. It’s not great or particularly good, but I’d imagine this flick would go over well in a room of drunk friends with lots of pizza. It’s that kind of movie. If you’re up for that sort of thing, then by all means, give it a watch.