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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

VHS Vednesday: Certain Fury

CERTAIN FURY (1985). Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal. Starring Tatum O'Neal, Irene Cara, and Peter Fonda.

Certain Fury opens with a truckload of prisoners being led into a courtroom, among them illiterate but streetwise prostitute Scarlet (Tatum O'Neal), charged with assault, and naive, well-to-do Tracy (Irene Cara), who was simply along for the ride in a boyfriend's stolen car. Things go from bad to worse when another prisoner, after distracting the entire room by breaking into song (!), slashes a bailiff's throat and grabs his gun. In the ensuing shoot-out, Scarlet and Tracy flee--initially to escape the violence, then out of fear that they'll be blamed (despite Tracy's reasonable protests that they're only making things worse for themselves). While hiding out, Scarlet and Tracy learn to overcome their differences and find some common ground.
The movie is a jumble of clashing times, it's clear that director Stephen Gyllenhaal is trying for a serious character study of the two fugitives, like a Defiant Ones for the '80s, but his efforts are undercut by an overabundance of exploitation elements, from the outrageous violence of the courtroom massacre to a gratuitous shower scene that segues into a squirm-inducing rape attempt. Given Gyllenhaal's superior later work in both film (A Dangerous Woman, Losing Isaiah) and television (Homicide: Life on the Streets, The Shield)...not to mention his having raised the dedicated, serious-minded talents Jake and Maggie...I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the movie's more unsavory aspects were foisted upon him for marketability.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
While they might be embarrassed by the film itself, O'Neal and Cara turn in effective performances above the material. While the casting of fresh-faced Tatum O'Neal as the bitter hooker might seem like a laughable "Look-at-me-I'm-grown-up" effort from the former child star, she quickly settles into the character and makes it convincing. (Still looks too clean for the role, though.) Familiar faces George Murdock and Moses Gunn acquit themselves admirably as the cynical police detective and Tracy's concerned father, respectively. Peter Fonda, though prominently billed, pretty much just walks through a cameo appearance as Scarlet's dealer/pimp. However, the biggest embarrassment goes to young Nicholas Campbell, going way over the top as a strung-out, violent junkie.



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