Today I watched Stuart Gordon’s Fortress (1992)
On the subject of strange leading men, let’s talk about Christopher Lambert. Unlike Carradine, whose anti-everyman persona seems to have been largely accepted, Lambert was often forced into the role of a relatable hero, which his off kilter mannerisms do not fit. Here for instance he is intended to be a classic action hero, an american soldier on the run from a futuristic totalitarian state that has enacted a brutal one child policy. Before he and his wife can flee to Canada though, they are caught and both interred in a privatized prison called the Fortress. Now if you have never seen Lambert act before, the first thing you will notice is his incredible Swiss accent, an accent I have never really heard him try to hide, and this movie has him cast as an American military commander, not much worse than a Scotsman I suppose. But this is exactly what I am getting at, this guy is marked by the affectations of an outsider, his accent, his look, his rare intensity, they all set him apart yet the script is trying desperately to tell us otherwise. It certainly makes for an interesting viewing experience if nothing else.
Aside from this odd casting the film offers some juicy early 90’s body horror in the form of the Intestinators, remote explosives and torture devices implanted into the prisoner’s intestines. The Fortress facility has all sorts of high tech gadgets and is run by a super computer for added futurism, yet, like most private prisons, it is horrifically overpopulated. While the film sets up this premise well, and elaborates on it in some interesting ways, it still loses a lot of momentum in the third act. I just don’t think it took the body horror far enough visually, the idea behind the cyborg death trooper mooks is certainly a terrifying one, but the image of them in battle is silly instead of brutal.
Despite all of this, what works about this movie works just enough to keep it all moving in the right direction. Fortress has a great look about it, great art design almost universally except the aforementioned cyborgs, though that is as much a problem with framing and choreography as anything else. It is a perfectly serviceable sci-fi prison break feature and while it may seem like I don’t like Lambert, that could not be further from the truth. He may be perpetually out of place but there is an appeal to that, the guy has charisma for sure. The film rolls along with plenty of fun ideas and cool effects that should satisfy those looking for a solid B picture. 4/5