The Best Movie You Never Saw: F/X

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at F/X!

THE STORY: Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown), an ace special fx man toiling in grade-d slashers, is approached by the government to help fake the death of a Mafioso (Jerry Orbach) entering Witness Protection. After successfully pulling off the job, he finds himself marked for death by his former employers and wanted by the police with only a ragged cop (Brian Dennehy) believing there may be more to the case than meets the eye. To get out alive, Tyler’s going to have to rely on his wits, but he has an ace up his sleeve – his special effects expertise.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Bryan Brown, Brian Dennehy, Diane Venora, and Jerry Orbach. Directed by Robert Mandel.

THE HISTORY: F/X is a little different from most of the movies featured in this column in that it was a success. According to articles from the time, no one expected much from it despite good test screening results and a successful premiere at an early version of the Sundance Film Festival. It opened in the spring of ’86 and picked up good word of mouth, grossing $20 million, which is pretty good in 1986 dollars for a movie with no stars, although the studio was frustrated by the title, thinking that the film would have grossed many times more than it did had people not been put off by it (IMO – the title is great).

We had to accept the title because the producers were very keen on it. They thought the two letters together would be provocative, like 'M*A*S*H.". – Charles O. Glenn, executive vice president of advertising, Orion Pictures – New York Times Interview

On VHS, F/X was a big hit, and I vividly remember an old video store I went to as a kid that poached their name from the film’s title and used the poster as a kind of company logo. It was successful enough that it spawned an OK sequel, F/X 2, which grossed about as much as the original, but the studio behind it, Orion, went bankrupt soon after. They sold off their library to MGM – so eventually we got a horrible Canadian TV show based on it, and then – nada – although Hollywood’s been fliting with remaking it for a while. Despite this relative success though, audiences nowadays that maybe missed the VHS days haven’t heard of it, so I figured this would be a good excuse to revisit a movie I loved as a child.

WHY IT'S GREAT: F/X is a lot like the TV show “MacGyver”, in that the hero relies on smarts rather than brawn to get him out of trouble. The hook, that an FX guy is framed and has to clear his name, is a good one. Fans of old-time, practical f/x work will get a huge kick out of this, especially in the classic, climatic action scene where Brown’s Tyler pulls out his bag of tricks to do battle with some well-armed baddies. It’s worth noting that the producers (including Dodi Fayed – who was infamously killed in a car crash alongside Princess Diana) pulled out all the stops, hiring a legit f/x guy, John Stears, who worked on STAR WARS and several 007 films, to consult.

“Bryan had to be a real person who fought with only the things he had at hand, not a James Bond character. You had to care about him.'' – Jack Weiner, Producer- New York Times Interview 

Bryan Brown, who has a solid run as a leading man around this time, makes for a likable lead. Think of him as an older, less polished Mel Gibson, with him using his native Aussie brogue to great effect, furthering the idea that Tyler is totally out of his element. He’s vulnerable but also tough, and by the time the conclusion rolls around you know that he’s more than a match for the baddies, who – I must admit – are a tad generic.

Probably the guy who benefited the most from F/X is Brian Dennehy, as the tough cop who’s a lot smarter than he lets on, and is the only guy that’s just about as clever as Tyler – maybe more so. Dennehy became an unlikely star after this one, and it’s easy to see why, with him effortlessly carrying a good chunk of the movie on his own, as they periodically leave Tyler to focus on the crooked investigation that’s setting him up to be the fall guy.

BEST SCENE: Obviously, it’s the finale that makes F/X worth seeing, but for the sake of spoilers, I’m not going to include it here, as it’s the payoff for the whole film. Rather, I’m putting in a nifty prelude the film uses, with us being shown a scene from one of Tyler’s low-rent horror flicks, only for the curtain to be pulled back in a cool reveal, showing our hero at work.

SEE IT: F/X is out on Blu-ray, and can also be found on some streaming services (Tubi TV had an HD version streaming free for a while).

PARTING SHOT: F/X is a strong, character-driven actioner, although despite Hollywood’s eagerness to remake it, they would have to use CGI in the plot, which isn’t as cohesive to a thriller as practical fx. While the tricks they show are antiquated at this point, F/X holds up well (the sequel – not quite as well although it’s still worth seeing for Brown and Dennehy alone). Check it out – it’s well worth a watch.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.