Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Video Cheese: CERTAIN FURY (1985)

 Note: This review was originally written for's Video Cheese feature. It has been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

CERTAIN FURY (1985 - color)
   "An innocent runaway teams up with a street-wise survivor and the two must run from the law through the dirty and crime-ridden underworld of the city."

   If you want my advice, I say skip Certain Fury and opt for the vaguely similar Teenage Doll, a late-50's Roger Corman pic about nice girl June Kenney becoming involved with criminal JD's and being on the hook for killing someone. Certain Fury seems to be built on the frame of that earlier film, but built up with cynical and pretentious elements to become a sleazy 'buddy' picture of sorts. 

   In the end, there's not a lot here that sticks with you. This is partly because the film keeps changing what direction it wants to go in. It starts a slick drama, then quickly becomes a violent exploitation picture, then settles into tragic character study, back to exploitation picture, occasional flirtations with character-based comedy, back to drama, back to exploitation, back to drama, and none of it is handled very well.

   Our stars are former child actress Tatum O'Neal, and successful singer/songwriter (and occasional actress) Irene Cara. This would seem both young ladies' bid to become serious actresses, but they've picked the wrong screenplay. While the script manages to be smart at times, its just as often moronic. 

   Tatum (who I must admit isn't hard on the eyes) plays Scarlet, a young lady who has grown up on the streets and has known nothing but hardship. She has somehow managed to survive despite not knowing how to read. I'm sure a better actress could have made more of this part, but O'Neal is all wrong. She never suggests someone with enough wit to survive the almost apocalyptic world she's supposed to come from. One of her traits is that she puts on a submissive act to get what she wants from the men in her life, and they're all catching on. The problem is, she's so bad at this act that it's hard to accept that anyone EVER fell for it.

   Cara fares better as Tracy, in over her head but looking for a way out. She's the conscience of the pair, and that will provide most of the conflict between the characters. 

   In one scene, Scarlet gives Tracy some dope to sell for money, but Tracy refuses to make money that way. Tracy must stick close to Scarlet, however, because she's the only person she has even a slight bond with who can survive the mean streets. In what I found the film's best moment, Scarlet calls Tracy "the N word" and Tracy gets offended, delivering a profanity-laced speech to put Scarlet in her place. But Scarlet is bemused that her words could have such a reaction, coming as she does from a world where race isn't an issue. Had the majority of the film delivered this much intelligence, it might have been a pretty fun watch.

   We open with a bunch of girls being filed into court, Tracy and Scarlet among them. Scarlet is more bored than anything else, having lived through this kind of thing many times before (although it looks like she may have the book thrown at her this time). Tracy, caught joyriding in a car she didn't know contained illegal narcotics, is terrified of this new situation she's found herself in. She has a wealthy father, but he's been so neglectful of Tracy since the passing of his wife that he remains unaware of his daughter's predicament. Tracy expects the defense lawyer to have been sent by him, but instead finds herself being defended by a court-appointed lawyer.

   Things quickly take a turn as a couple hookers take over the room. One sings and creates a diversion until the guard approaches her, at which point she slashes his throat and the other grabs his gun and takes the judge hostage.

   This sudden eruption of Tarantino-like violence lasts just long enough to lull us into the impression that this will be an action film. As more guards burst into the room, the judge is accidentally shot, his brains sprayed all over the man standing next to him. In the ensuing firefight, much carnage is depicted. 

   Scarlet and Tracy manage to escape in the confusion, but the homicidal hooker tags along with them long enough for the Police to get the impression that the pair was in on the break which resulted in the deaths of a good dozen or so cops and bystanders. The film briefly jumps into Jabootu territory when the girls jump a fence and the 'iron' spikes which line the top wobble as if, well, as if they were rubber props. In the very next scene, the hooker tries to scale the fence and follow, and a cop grabs her ankles. We get a close-up shot of a pair of spikes poking through her body! I didn't think the spikes looked that long when they were rubber, nor did I think the cop had enough of a grip, or leverage, to do that to her!

   The girls escape into the sewer, but the cops are behind them. One manages to trap them in a dead end in a half-flooded drain. After calling in to let his superiors know where he's located, the cop then pulls out a cigarette. Oddly, it is Tracy, and not the cop, who notices the sewer gas and remembers its inflammable. There is a huge explosion, one which causes giant fireballs to erupt into the street. 

   The girls manage to dive into the water and save themselves. The cop, who somehow isn't burned despite the center of the explosion being inches from his face, also survives but is hooked on the drain's grate with his head under water. Tracy tries to save him, but can't get him free fast enough. Tracy is now convinced she's responsible for his death.

   The girls eventually leave the sewer and head down town, where Scarlet knows a guy who has a place they can hide out in. His apartment also doubles as his studio for taking pornographic pictures, and the guy is also Scarlet's pimp. Tracy asks to use his shower, and Scarlet heads out to get some traveling money (or something) from Peter Fonda! 

   I'm not 100% sure what Fonda's character is all about (he seems to be a mob boss), or what exactly his previous relationship with Scarlet was (he may have been one of her 'Johns' but he may have been more than that). He's cooled on her now, though. She takes offense and starts to chew him out, which causes Peter to slash her cheek with his knife. 

   Meanwhile, Scarlet's pimp tries to rape Tracy in the shower (in an odd move for a supposedly serious performance, Cara provides a full frontal nude scene -though this is seen through the minimally textured shower door) and she has to fight him off. For a while it looks like she killed him, but he surfaces again.

   For whatever reason, Fonda sends his thugs to finish off Scarlet. They follow the girls to an opium den, where Scarlet tries to unload some dope and collect enough money to skip town. I guess I'll leave off there just in case you want to see the film for yourself.

   The main highlights here are occasional scenes with George Murdock (as a detective, natch) and Moses Gunn (as Tracy's father), always a few steps behind the girls and reflecting on what lead to the trouble everybody is in. Seeing two old pros at work elevates these scenes far higher than they have any right to be. You find yourself wishing they had been the focus of the story rather than the Hard Luck Girls.

Ultimately, I can't be sure if this movie is Oscar bait posing as exploitation drama, or exploitation drama posing as Oscar bait. Like I said, go with Teenage Doll instead, you'll find a lot more meat there (and the adorable June Kenney is always welcome on my screen).

   By the way, the title Certain Fury doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything in the film itself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017