Running time: 91 min.
When looking back at action stars of the 80's and 90's, people always talk about Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Norris, Seagal and Van Damme. The star of this week's review, Fortress, is Christopher Lambert. Lambert has been in some cult favorites such as The Highlander series and Mortal Kombat. He really is a poor man's Jean-Claude Van Damme; he also commonly falls into my favorite category: the obviously foreign guy with an American-sounding name. In this case, he plays John Brennick, and he is about to commit a serious crime: getting his wife pregnant.
You may stop and ask "Why is that considered a serious crime? Pregnancy is a beautiful and natural result of the love that a man and woman have shared together.". Well, cupcake, the future is a dystopia, and having more than one child overpopulates 'Murica, eating up valuable, precious and scarce resources. The dystopian future in Fortress is the year 2017 which is in one year, so I would start practicing safe sex if we are to continue relying on movies to predict the future.
Brennick and his wife, Karen (Loryn Locklin), are trying to get across the U.S. border and into Canada when we meet them. Karen is wearing a flak jacket, which for some reason disguises the border patrols scans for pregnancy. Ultimately, the couple is found out and they take off running. John yells at his wife to keep going, while he stays behind to get nearly torn to shreds by some border patrol puppy dogs. He winds up with a 31-year sentence and I'm sure a much-talked-about documentary on Netflix. He is taken to The Fortress, which is a privately run underground prison. Each prisoner is injected with a device called an Intestinator, which can be set to either deliver abdominal pain or flat out explode your gut, dependent on the situation. The movie didn't tell us, but the Intestinator sounds like it may have been designed by McDonald's. Brennick doesn't make friends right away. He runs afoul of the evil prison rapist, Mannix, played by the great Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior; Commando). I heart Vernon Wells. Mannix has '187' tattooed on his forehead, which is something he would regret when he becomes an old man, but luckily for him he gets a hole blown in his stomach by the house splatter gun during a brawl with Brennick. Brennick gets to meet the director of the facility, Poe (Kurtwood Smith) who lets him know that his wife was caught, and she is being held in this....very....facility.
Brennick disregards the rules of the house one time too many, and undergoes a mind wipe process, turning him from a rebellious Frenchmen to a drooling idiot. That's an upgrade, AM I RIGHT, AMERICA?? Poe has coerced Brennick's wife to live with him in his quarters in exchange for sparing John, which she agrees to do. Along the way, she discovers that Poe is an enhanced human who doesn't need to eat, drink or sleep to live; when pregnant women are arrested and taken to The Fortress, their babies are taken and experimented on in this manner. Karen gets Poe to try champagne for the first time, and Poe obliges. He takes three sips and he passes out, and Karen is relieved that he is such a cheap drunk. She manages to use the sentient computer system, called Zed, to spy on John. The computer has the ability to peer into the subject's dreams and display them on-screen, so Karen manipulates John's dream to somehow coax him out of his drooling funk and back to his rebellious ways. Brennick then recruits his cellmates, Gomez (Clifton Collins Jr), Abraham (Lincoln Kilpatrick), D-Day (Jeffrey Combs) and Stiggs (Tom Towles) into an escape plan. Abraham is the Morgan Freeman of this movie, the veteran black guy who has been there for 40 years and is *this close* to parole. So, of course, he dies, right?
All jokes aside, I found myself enjoying this movie quite a bit. There was never a dull moment thanks to a plot that was filled with as many holes as it was filled with action. Director Stuart Gordon is renowned for his work in the sci-fi genre with credits such as Re-Animator, Robot Jox and Space Truckers. He created a claustrophobic atmosphere within this prison as everyone is bunched closely together and there are literal and figurative tight squeezes throughout the film. Lambert proves himself more than adept at fight scenes, and is laughably awesome with that accent. In one scene, when Kurtwood Smith's character first meets Lambert, he suggests that Lambert "get comfortable". I swear I'm not making this up, but it sounded like Lambert responded with "I am constable.". I rewound that part several times just to make sure. Speaking of Red Forman, he was quite weaselly here and was a more than adequate villain. In scenes with Loryn Locklin, he brought a little humanity to the forefront, as the character Poe just wanted to experience some human elements that most of us take for granted. The supporting cast of inmates were your usual prison movie stock characters. I also had a slight issue with the ending of the film, as it leads you to believe that the story took you in an unexpected direction, but then couldn't go through with it after all and brought it back.
I recommend this film on it's devotion to the sci-fi genre as well as providing some solid b-movie tropes.