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Certain Fury
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"'Certain' Boredom"
1 stars

The ads make sure to note that the movie contains two Academy Award winners, but big deal -- after all, the calamitous "Heaven's Gate" contained four.

The day before sitting through the atrocious Certain Fury, one of the absolute worst movies ever made, I had the pleasure of rewatching the 1976 The Bad News Bears, where Tatum O’Neal, who was the youngest actress to win an Academy Award, for Paper Moon, was phenomenally assured and affecting as the lone-girl player on a little-league baseball team. Many of us wondered where her career would lead, which has been decidedly mixed with some successes (Little Darlings) and failures (Circle of Two), and it’s a shame to see her starring in something as downright ghastly as Certain Fury, which not even her famous-actor father Ryan could love. O’Neal’s white streetwise, illiterate teenager Scarlet is set to be arraigned in a Manhattan court for homicide: she’s a drug-using prostitute, and when her perverted john started getting violent with her, she defended herself by fatally stabbing him; with her checkered criminal history, her lawyer doesn’t think she has a chance of not being convicted. Also in the courtroom is Tracy (Irene Cara), the black privileged daughter of a prominent surgeon, who’s been arrested for stealing a car, but this matter is murkily sketched -- her father later on insists that she didn’t know the car was stolen; and being that Tracy seems like the ultimate Goody two-shoes, we simply can’t believe she’d do something more serious than shoplifting a candy bar. But before the presiding judge can begin his busy docket in the overcrowded courtroom, another female defendant (unconvincingly) manages to slit the court officer’s throat, grab his weapon, and shoot up all the officers who quickly descend upon the scene; armed with a shotgun, she turns the place into bloody mayhem, successfully escapes, with Scarlet and Tracy fleeing the scene with the gunwoman following close behind them. (Why on Earth they just don’t step aside and let her run past them is anybody’s guess.) The gunwoman is eventually shot and killed, but our anti-heroines keep on running, ending up in a sewer tunnel where they’re trapped waist-deep in filthy water at a grate, and when an officer manages to find them and has his weapon drawn, while waiting for back-up to arrive he (are you ready?) pulls out a cigarette and starts to light it, and in the process ignites the sewer gas and kills himself in the explosion, which Scarlet and Tracy manage to survive. Scarlet knows they’ll be blamed for the death and be the target of the avenging police, so she and Tracy make their way to a seedy associate of hers, Sniffer (a not-bad Nicholas Campbell), a drug peddler and pimp and pornographer. Tracy goes to take a shower, Scarlet and Sniffer have an argument, she leaves, and Sniffer tries raping Tracy, only for Scarlet to return to assault Sniffer, steal his dope supply, and take Tracy to a local crime lord Rodney (a sleepwalking Peter Fonda) on his yacht, where again they have to escape and eventually find themselves in a drug den trying to sell Sniffer’s dope, with Rodney’s henchmen on their trail because Rodney’s been assured by the detective on the case that if he turns them in he’ll gain some clout in the police department. (I’ve read writings on filthy bathroom stalls that make more sense than this puerile poppycock.)

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that both the screenwriter, Michael Jacobs, and the director, Stephen Gyllenhaal, are making their feature-film debuts, with their complete and utter incompetence evident every step of the way. Rather than organically linking character with incident, Jacobs merely trots out contrivance-laden happenstances pulled out of thin air in the desperate attempt to maintain our attention; and when it comes to dialogue, it’s nothing but profanity-laden kitty litter in the dire attempt to be “raw.” Maybe if Scarlet and Tracy had been handcuffed their plight together might’ve made some semblances of sense, but the way it’s been conceived we simply can’t buy into the girls’ allegiance other than for a most perfunctory reason -- if they didn’t stick together, their wouldn’t be a movie. Jacobs peddles in stereotypes, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in a strictly genre piece, but because there isn’t so much as an iota of ingenuity we can’t help being nonplussed and eventually insulted by the bare-bones shorthand Jacobs uncouthly dishes out. (If the characters had practiced even rudimentary common sense, the soggy story would’ve easily run out by the half-hour mark.) A mere eighty-five minutes long, Certain Fury has practically no context, and because it’s been inadequately engineered we have too much downtime in realizing just what an empty, brain-dead cinematic endeavor it is. Perhaps if a director of even semi-talent had been brought onboard, we wouldn’t mind the oodles of innate stupidity, but Gyllenhaal can’t frame a shot, shape a scene, or cut together an action sequence to save his life; and because this is one of the worst-looking movies you’re ever likely to see (it’s hard to believe there was an actual cinematographer on the set) we don’t even have the pleasure of taking in the location shooting that was done in picturesque Vancouver, British Columbia doubling for New York. But even these liabilities are minor compared to the degradation the moviemakers have foisted upon Tracy, with her assaulted while in the shower and then pinned to the floor by the animalistic Sniffer, and later on held down by four druggies while someone injects heroin into her. The reason for this is all too obvious -- Tracy needs to experience the gritty side of life so she can be brought down to Scarlet’s level of everyday existence, but these scenes are painfully prolonged and callously sensationalized. (For those who remember her hopelessly naïve character in Alan Parker’s Fame, this isn’t the first time Cara has allowed herself to be exploited on the silver screen.) We’re supposed to see that Scarlet and Tracy are “sisters under the skin,” but because the characterizations are paper-thin and the two actresses never have a chance to get an actual rapport going, there isn’t a single second when we’re glad they’re around, with audience sympathy a big fat zero. As the reticent Tracy, Cara does nothing wrong, though her line readings aren’t particularly impressive. O’Neal, however, is genuinely bad. Cussing up a storm and trying to act tough, she’s monochromatically grating from start to finish, and when trying to convey Scarlet’s vulnerable side, O’Neal employs a wispy, little-girl voice that’s cringeworthy and serves as the final nail in the coffin of this truly revolting motion picture.

It was bottom-basement stuff like this that brought about the bankruptcy of New World Pictures.

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originally posted: 04/09/15 01:30:19
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  01-Mar-1985 (R)



Directed by
  Stephen Gyllenhaal

Written by
  Michael Jacobs

  Tatum O'Neal
  Irene Cara
  Nicholas Campbell
  Moses Gunn
  Peter Fonda

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