Lionsgate // 1993 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 5th, 2008
Lionsgate dusts off the cobwebs on this 1993 futuristic prison sci-fi actioner starring Christopher Lambert (Highlander) and the go-to guy for the main villain in these kinds of movies, Kurtwood Smith (Robocop).
In 2017, life pretty much sucks. Overpopulation has led to harshly enforced limitations on procreation and because abortion is banned, naturally, the world becomes an apocalyptic nightmare wasteland of fascism and punching. John Brennick (Lambert) and his wife Karen (Loryn Locklin) try to flee the country, but are caught at the border and, because she's expecting their second illegal child, the two are sentenced to the Fortress, the inescapable prison run by an evil corporation and lorded over by the megalomaniacal warden, Poe (Smith) and his virtual reality floozy Zed.
Turns out the corporation is genetically modifying people to make a master race and the prisoners are playing a role in this wacky scheme. It falls to Brennick to rally the human spirit of the prisoner population and take the fight to The Man.
Futuristic prison colony movies are boatloads of fun, no doubt, and there are some amusing things to be found in Fortress, but overall, this is one corny movie. The subject matter is designed to be taken seriously, what with the themes of oppression, dehumanization of criminals, corruption of unchecked corporations, etc. but Holy Cow if the sight of prisoners dry heaving because of the computer chips implanted in their intestines and the upbeat color palette (lots of bright oranges and baby blues) doesn't neutralize the deadly serious stuff.
To the flick's credit, the bullet-ridden final third is pretty fun. Anonymous bad guys in plastic robot suits litter the place and make for some excellent cannon fodder. Plus there's lot of blood and goo once Lambert gets a hold of a giant gun that tears up fools but looks like it weighs about 400 pounds.
Speaking of Christopher Lambert, dude manages to stay cool, despite the cheeseball surroundings, holding his own in physical confrontations and talking trash in that three-pack a day smoker's growl he's got. Plus, the guy just loves the wet dream. Thanks to the 2017 technology advances in telepathy, computers can read brains while the person sleeps and Brennick unleashes a flurry of nonstop erotic dreaming as soon as he arrives, turning the prison terminals into Cinemax tuners. Has there been a sci-fi hero in recent memory with such a libidinous subconscious? Doubtful.
His posse of prison pals are uniformly irritating, though, from the scrappy, naïve "young kid" who is constantly in over his head and requires saving to the requisite "nerd prisoner" who has the ability to solve all technical problems with only the minimal amount of resources and hardware.
Then there's Kurtwood Smith doing the typical bad guy thing in his bodacious suit jacket that looks less 2017 and more, well, 1993. He sleazes around and contorts his face wildly when called upon and succeeds in making me wish he would explode and, lo and behold, he does, flinging what appears to be laundry detergent all around the room.
Fortress comes to us with little fanfare. Interestingly, the cardboard sheath, housing the disc case, looks to be a new design, but within is an old-school Artisan (haven't heard that name in a while) release. The on-disc presentation is indeed "Artisan-esque" bringing a no-frills full frame, 2.0 stereo technical offering and no extras save for some liner notes.
It's bombastic and goofy, but Fortress is still entertaining in that excessive early '90s science fiction action spectacle sort of way. The DVD brings very little to the table, though.
Not guilty, but I kind of feel guilty saying it.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Notes
* Original DVD Verdict Review