fonda

This is taken from a March 1993 edition of The Pointer, my college’s student newspaper. Though I hardly offer an unqualified rave, this is probably one of the more generous reviews of Point of No Return you’re likely to encounter. I do still remember the Bridget Fonda performance as being strong, but I was also crushing on her pretty hard at this time. This wasn’t enough to make me overlook the subpar quality of her work in the following year’s The Road to Wellville, though, (hardly the greatest flaw in that misbegotten production, but still) so I think my critical acumen took only the mildest of hits from my fluttery stomach. I often included a couple reviews in my weekly column, hence the inclusion of Fire in the Sky. That film led me to interview Robert Patrick for our movie review radio show. It was a weirdly intense phone conversation that found him repeatedly referring to the subject of the alien abduction film as “an American hero” and finally pulling the guy in from another room to join the interview.   

American remakes of foreign films have been especially abundant of late. These new version range from dreadful (the mangling of the Dutch thriller “The Vanishing”) to inspired (the French film “The Return of Martin Guerre” revamped as “Sommersby”). The latest film to shed the subtitles is the French hit “La Femme Nikita.” The American version, entitled “Point of No Return,” stars Bridget Fonda as an animalistic murderer who avoids a death sentence by agreeing to be drawn into the training program of a government organization that specializes in covert operations.

After a series of conflicts with the people teaching her, Fonda finally caves in to their attitudes and allows herself to be transformed from grubby ruffian to sexy assassin. She is given a new identity and dropped into Venice, California, where the organization can call on her when she is needed for a mission. There, Fonda begins to build a life with a new boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) and a fresh appreciation of the world around her. She quickly realizes that there’s nothing she wants more desperately than escape from the organization’s murderous missions.

There are the making here for a stylist, driving thriller that replaces the typical action move love of violence with a yearning for simple pleasures. Unfortunately, John Badham seriously undermines the film. Though Badham has a pair of great techno-thrillers in his filmography (“Blue Thunder” and “WarGames”), he has spent much of the past ten years churning out slop like “Short Circuit.” With “Point of No Return” he has a fine story to tell but mishandles it with clumsy pacing that makes some of action sequences drag, and many passages integral to character development race by too quickly.

It’s the adventurous performance of Bridget Fonda that keeps the film watchable. Fonda gives the character a deep, unwavering anger that is covered up by her newfound refinement but not completely eliminated. That anger is always lingering beneath the surface, giving the character a striking unpredictability. She also excels at portraying the character’s slowly developing aversion to the violent lifestyle she is trapped in and the profound longing for release. This role represents a major step forward for Fonda as an actress. If only the film also featured a return to form for Badham, “Point of No Return” could have been something more than a misfire salvaged by an actress’s performance.

FIRE IN THE SKY: It’s easy to chuckle at the legend “based on a true story” that kicks off this portrayal of alien abduction, but the scene in which we get a glimpse at what Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) supposedly endured after being drawn into an alien spaceship is absolutely no laughing matter. The sequence inside spaceship is unsettling and downright frightening as Walton escapes from an eerie cocoon and suffers through an intensely painful series of experiments. Unfortunately, that ten minutes or so comes up near the end of the movie. Up until that point, “Fire in the Sky” is mostly about the efforts of Walton’s lumberjack buddies to convince the skeptical authorities that their pal was swiped by extra-terrestrials.

The characters never evolve past cursory descriptions (the trouble-maker, the kid, the religious one) and real laughs come from the film’s TV movie simplicity. The scene in which “the leader” (Robert Patrick) shames the entire community with a speech about brotherhood is a real hoot. By focusing on the men left solidly on planet Earth, the film cheats the audience out of the true adventure taking place in the film: the harrowing experience of Walton. It’s a misjudgment that takes “Fire in the Sky” down in flames.

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