Review: F/X Murder by Illusion

Special effects mastermind Rollie Tyler gets more than he bargained for in this ace 1980s thriller about murder and the film business.

Read our interview with real life special effects artist Jim McKeown who has recently worked on Prometheus, Harry Potter, Captain America and James Bond

Ironically, for a film about the art of special-effects, what’s on show here isn’t anything beyond the rudimentary but there’s a distinct charm about protagonist Rollie Tyler’s movie-magic trickery that makes this overtly eighties film so enjoyable. Bryan Brown plays Tyler, a special-effects wizard who after his latest movie is asked to perform a fake assassination for the Justice Department. However, not all goes to plan as Tyler is framed for the murder that he thought he’d faked, and after narrowly escaping death himself, he has to use all the tricks he knows to evade those that want to kill him, and the police that want to arrest him.

The plot comes across as a convoluted wannabe detective story with the ‘secrets of movie-making revealed’ forming the perfect trappings to corner an ultra-light, escapist-craving market. But this is little more than James Bond Jr. substituting ‘Q’ and ‘M’ for his ‘ABCs’, a film with plenty of mystery to intrigue, its total lack of pretension making for what is simple but perfect entertainment. Essentially, director Robert Mandel’s film is all about the magic, and less about the ‘how to’, its murder-mystery plot being the perfect story to centre it all around. And as Mandel pushes the film along at breakneck speed as the ‘who does it’ in the film business tries to figure out ‘whodunit’ in the assassination world, F/X is formed into a rather great late-night entertainer.

Of course the film has its flaws, most notably some gaping plot holes that will have even the least discerning viewer scratching their head, as the characters, especially Rollie Tyler himself, make some exceedingly strange choices about how they go about their lives – indeed, how they protect their very right to live. Yet this is a film about movie-magic and as such, it seems unfair to degrade it for pushing the boundaries of our suspension of disbelief as it celebrates the movie-ideals it pays homage to. It has the requisite component parts from some well-timed comedy, some decent action sequences, and elements of self-referential parody. Leads Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy are both good in their roles. Brown maintains enough hard-man nuances to merit his survival, with a collected calm that enables the audience to associate with him, while Dennehy is joyously sarcastic as good guy/bad cop Leo McCarthy, his dry delivery making for some standout moments.

Read our interview with real life special effects artist Jim McKeown who has recently worked on Prometheus, Harry Potter, Captain America and James Bond

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: Robert Mandel
Written by: Gregory Fleeman, Robert T. Megginson
Starring: Bryan Brown, Brian Dennehy, Diane Venora, Cliff De Young, Mason Adams, Jerry Orbach
Released: 1986 / Genre: Action/Mystery/Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB

Buy from Amazon.co.uk: DVD | Blu-ray

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Rodney Reply

    Pity the TV show based on this never lived up to its potential…. Ahh Bryan Brown, where are you now…?

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