Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cheap Thrills: Fair Game (1995)

Cheap Thrills is a column on The Following Preview featuring movies that can be had new at certain stores for $5 or less. Today's movie is the action-thriller Fair Game (1995), which I found at a Big Lots! store for $3.00.

Note: Normally I write spoiler-free reviews, but this one talks about the ending. Obviously, Fair Game is full of shocking twists you'll never see coming, so consider yourself warned.

My memory of the early 1990s is pretty vague and as the years pass, it gets all blurred together, but for whatever reason, 1994 sticks out in my head as the year when I first heard of Cindy Crawford. I also remember the buzz about Fair Game being her first starring role in a major motion picture, but this was long before I cared about movies, so it isn't until now that I've had the pleasure of viewing her first big foray into big-screen work. The verdict? Cindy Crawford is a knockout with limited acting talent, and the movie is hilarious.

Lots of movies have clothesline plots, but Fair Game is almost deliberately uninterested in the details of why Ilya Kazak (Steven Berkoff) would want to kill Kate McQuean (Crawford), other than the broad strokes: she's a lawyer, and somehow her lawyering is going to interrupt his attempt to steal $900 million dollars. Kate is out jogging when Kazak's silly Russian henchmen try, and fail, to kill her for the first time (as far as I can tell, the bullet is deflected by her armband Walkman). She ends up making a statement at the police office where Max Kirkpatrick (William Baldwin) works, he forgets to have her sign it, and is conveniently there for the first in a string of situations where he manages to save Kate's life.

Mediocre action movies only have one card to play for the audience's approval, and that's the action. At first I was worried the movie was going to bore me to death, slogging through character development for Kate (plot-relevant lawyering with an uncredited Dan Hedaya) and Max (not-relevant ex-girlfriend wackiness with Salma Hayek), but when Kate's huge mansion of a house gets seriously explosion-y, the movie becomes entertaining in a hurry. It's a cliche that men like to see stuff blown up real good, but the pyrotechnics experts working on Fair Game knew what they were doing: while the non-action operates on an indeterminate level of sincerity, the explosions are firmly over-the-top, setting the tone for the rest of the movie. For whatever reason, it's mostly cars: cars that get shot in the gas tank, cars in parking garages, cars being swung into other cars, and even an old yellow beater that Max crashes into a railroad crossing sign while boarding a train in the most complicated, stupid and wasteful way possible.

Speaking of which, the other tone-defining element is William Baldwin. Will falls in the middle of the three Baldwins whose film performances I can recall from memory (I've seen Nothing But Trouble, but I'll be damned if I remember Daniel). Occasionally, he's got Alec's charisma, and he delivers his lines with a little nuance, but his facial expressions are extremely goofy. From the moment he springs into action, guns ablaze, flying through the air, it's like a 1980s-era Nicolas Cage has time-traveled into the film, only with more intense, deliberate mugging. IMDb says Fair Game had more than a handful of reshoots. I don't know what's new and what isn't, but a positive side effect I'd credit to this process is that Baldwin's chances to emote alone appear to be cut down significantly. More than a handful of scenes seem like they were meant to go on longer, but don't, giving the audience a mere hint of William's upset-face instead of a full dose.

Meanwhile, Kazak does amusingly stupid things like fire a gun while standing in the bottom of a boat and explain his plan to Kate for pretty much no reason at all. He's eternally optimistic and memorably slimy; while most of his screen time is spent in the front seat of an SUV looking angry at Max's ability to escape death and/or yelling at more henchmen to go try some more, he elevates himself out of forgettability with extra-exaggerated snarling. His crew is intense too: perpetually Eeyore-faced Olek Krupka, a totally underutilized Jenette Goldstein, and Marc Macaulay at his most Michael Ironside-ish. They drive around in the aforementioned SUV with a hacker named Stefan (Gustav Vintas), tracking credit card numbers and using heat scanning to try to spot Kate and Max, but Max fools them by accident when one of his cop friends flushes the toilet and the cold water takes him off their grid. Awesome!

As for Crawford, she stumbles over more than a handful of lines, and the emotional state of her character varies wildly from scene to scene at the beginning of the film (potentially not her fault; might be the editing again), but she has enough personal charisma to coast through the film. Her scene with Hedaya is solid, and a later scene where she puts some moves on a computer nerd is fun. She also gets to participate in the action from time to time, taking the wheel during a great chase sequence involving a tow truck, and guns down at least one villain (while topless, of course). Clearly, she wasn't destined to be a movie star, but for the purposes of a film like Fair Game, what she pulls off here is more than adequate.

At the end, all of the elements come together at once: a magical bomb that looks like a tape recorder goes off, sequentially blowing up every part of the ship except the part that Kazak is in (which is strange, since I think the bomb is two feet away from him). Max and Kate jump off (Crawford gets wet, Baldwin makes a hilarious face) and Kazak manages to drown (still trying to pull his money out despite the boat sinking and exploding) on one of the most explosive boats of the 90's. The DVD is full-frame, but the original version was 1.85:1 (and the picture here may be open matte, although I'm guessing it's cropped). There aren't any features. Was Fair Game worth the $3 I spent on it? Certainly.

Here's the trailer for Fair Game, which isn't on the DVD. It's about as amusing as the film, with the painfully cliched voice-over (Kate and Max don't hate each other that much in the movie) and lots of dialogue that didn't make the final cut.

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