Artisan // 2001 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // March 15th, 2002
Your first mistake will be your last
Lately I've been reviewing a lot of truly bad movies. Films like Luck Of The Draw and Motorama have been offered up on a pyre of shattered dreams and my broken spirit, and they've allowed me to practice the necessary life skill of scathing (ooo...big word) sarcasm. Yes, these were truly pathetic attempts at filmmaking and both represented the very worst of their respective genres. In retrospect there was one thing drastically missing from both of these movies that might have saved them from utter derision -- unintentional comedy. Unintentional comedy is what brings smiles to the faces of the purveyors of bad cinema, and it's with this in mind that I bring you a review of Fatal Error, a made-for-cable film that originally erred on TBS.
Frankly, I love movie titles like "Fatal Error." The title has absolutely nothing to do with the movie and you get the feeling it was made up just because it sounded cool. You can do this with all sorts of random "exciting" words like:
And that's just for starters. Go on and try it. I can see titles like "Naked Encounter," "The Hour of Passion," and "Dangerous Truth." I don't know what these movies would be about, but I'd guarantee they'd be bad. I could just do this all day. I'm rambling.
Dr. Nick Baldwin (Antonio Sabato, Jr. -- The Big Hit) is a rogue EMT who, dammit, breaks all the rules to save lives. He fumes at his superiors, chews scenery, and stumbles upon some carnage where an infectious virus has calcified an entire boardroom full of lawyers. (Insert calcified lawyer joke here.) Shortly after arriving at the scene, the army shows up with a special top-secret investigative team headed up by Dr. Samantha Carter (Janine Turner -- Dr. T & the Women), who shoos away the TV crews, the S.W.A.T. teams, reporters from The Weekly World News and all of the other EMTs except Nick. You'd think a dopey-looking pretty boy trying to act tough in an EMT uniform would get his skull cracked for not listening to a direct order from an army special top-secret investigative team, but Nick turns on the charm and says the magic words: "It's a virus." So the special top-secret investigative team not only allows Nick to hang around, but they invite him to join their team and give him top secret clearance.
It turns out Dr. Nick was once a rogue doctor of virology who, dammit, broke the rules to save lives fighting Ebola or malaria or chicken pox or something in Africa. Despite the fact that Nick could have infected the entire continent of Africa by breaking the rules, he points out that the people that he tried to save, including his fiancée, died anyway and that Africa is still there (you can check, if you'd like). It also turns out that people in the Seattle area have been randomly calcifying with no explanation or connection to each other. I guess it's something like spontaneous human combustion, only different. They think it's some sort of virus doing this to people, but it doesn't seem to be a following the normal, orderly virus rules of killing people by turning their insides to goo. Things get even more confusing when a scientist trying to make a computer simulation of the virus' DNA randomly calcifies despite being in a top-secret airtight sealed room.
This leads Nick to conclude that the virus is being delivered through television sets and computer monitors, leaping through the air and entering bodies through the eyeball. No, I'm not making this up. If you're not on the floor laughing at this point, there is just something horribly wrong with you. Nick also surmises a fatal connection between the virus and a brand new cable television system owned by the evil, scheming media magnate Albert Teal (Robert Wagner -- Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery), who seems to be exactly like Bill Gates, only different.
It turns out that this new cable system is going to be turned on across the entire nation within a couple of days, and if a deadly pathogen is being delivered through it then, by golly, it needs to be stopped. Since they're not sure if Teal has anything to do with the virus, Nick and Samantha decide to tip their hands and tell him about it. Naturally, you're probably thinking the same thing I am, that Nick and Samantha have the collective intelligence of dust mites. Teal has them thrown out of his office and then makes a call to his favorite corrupt senator, who pulls a whole bunch of strings to have the investigation quashed. Will Nick and Samantha be able to save the world before it's too late, or will the entire free world be turned into heaps of calcium? Does anybody actually care?
I won't ruin the rest of the movie except to say there's this whole subplot involving a rival media company headed by Jack Doulan (Malcolm Stewart -- Fatal Memories -- hey, a word I missed). I'll also point out that Teal is kinda sorta partially responsible, only not really because he only hired the creepy computer hacker (Ned Henderson -- a That Guy from Lake Placid) who's behind the nefarious scheme. As a bonus, you get to see Robert Wagner turn into calcium. It's all rather exciting in a dumbfounding sort of way, like Mariah Carey's career.
To say that Fatal Error is a really super bad movie is something of an understatement. Considering that the teleplay was written by "Farscape" co-creator Rockne S. O'Bannon, I expected much better, like the inclusion of the prerequisite gratuitous sex scene between the two leads, but that was not meant to be. Sure, they ogle and flirt throughout the entire film, but it's hardly the same. I'm also lead to believe that the novel Fatal Error is based on, Ben Mezrich's "Reaper" is actually pretty decent, but I would hope that O'Bannon heavily deviated from the original book for this to be true. There are plot holes so utterly implausible in Fatal Error that somewhere Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay are smiling while elsewhere in the world a child is weeping.
The acting is as bad as you would expect. Sabato, Jr. gets by on his debatably good looks and his at-best mediocre acting ability, while the rest of the cast stares vacantly looking like they're ready to strangle their agents should they survive this experience. The lucky ones got to calcify and die early in the film, I'm afraid to say.
The video and audio transfers are each respectively decent though nothing spectacular. Colors are suitably deep and there was no noticeable edge enhancement, though there were occasional issues with graininess. It was nothing that would distract you from this comedic tour-de-force, however. The audio is an okay 2.0 stereo mix, but with nothing terribly exciting happening on screen it's not noticeable that all 5.1 stereo channels aren't pulsing. And how about those extras? With comedy this good you don't need no stinking extras, and that's exactly what you get with Fatal Error. This could be a blessing.
At this juncture I want to point out something that I mentioned during my review of Luck of the Draw and something that Judge Erick Harper mentions in his review of The Calling (recommended reading, that one), and that is this abomination:
What this double speak seems to mean is that maybe Fatal Error was once widescreen, or maybe not. Maybe it was formatted to fit the screen, or maybe not. There is no excuse for this type of lingo on a package. Hey, Artisan, get your marketing people together and fix this. (Thanks for the scan, Erick.)
There are Hollywood made comedies that aren't nearly as funny as Fatal Error, like Tomcats or Zoolander. Seriously. I never expected that I would sit down at any time during my life and write phrases like "randomly calcifies" at any given time for any reason, yet here I am doing just that. I usually devote The Rebuttal Witnesses to unleashing my scathing (ooo...big word) sarcasm, but I'm going to resist the urge on this one.
Fatal Error is either a really bad science fiction film or a truly classic comedy caper, and I've been laughing too hard to really care which it is. If you need a healthy dose of cheese in your movie diet, you could do far worse than to watch this one. If you have no sense of humor or appreciation of bad movies, you should stay far, far away from Fatal Error. Trust me on this.
Fatal Error is being set free with time served due to a plea bargain, and the marketing gurus at Artisan get a jar of spiders on their head for deceptive packaging.
Here's some more possible movie names: "Dangerous Justice," "Truthful Instinct," and "Passionate Exposure." Sorry, I'm rambling again.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated