It’s a dystopian future of 2017, where a fascist U.S. has a strict population control policy. John Henry Brennick (Christopher Lambert) and pregnant wife Karen (Loryn Locklin) attempt to make it over the heavily secured border to Vancouver to have their child. They’re caught and sentenced to time in the hi-tech underground prison known as ‘the Fortress’.
Evil Kurtwood Smith is the prison director and implements his dastardly rules with the help of a super computer. He also has some nefarious secrets as to the plans of the incarcerated Karen. Brennick plans an escape, take down Smith, save his wife and let their baby breathe the air of freedom.
Fortress is a low-budget Australian-American film. The plot might sound like nothing special and have a ‘been there, seen that’ vibe. The budget might not have been enough to create much dynamic visuals and have the impressive flair a sci-fi story set in a futuristic prison could have, but director Stuart Gordon manages to stretch the constraints he had into making it an enjoyable enough B-movie.
The film isn’t trying to hit a home run. It’s ambitions aren’t as lofty and it succeeds in making it an entertaining enough single. The story is straight forward and there’s really no spectacular twists, although it has some I wasn’t too impressed by them. What it does have is a some creative touches and fun special effects and gore that will hold your attention.
Things go down as you might expect as Lambert plans his escape. He has to get that tracker out from his body. He and his pals have to figure out a way to shut down those pesky overhead cameras, find an escape route, get past Smith. It’s predicable stuff, but it does hold your attention.
The film is filled with enough B-movie actors who come in and help the story along to satisfy cult movie fans. Vernon Wells, Jeffrey Combs, Clifton Collins Jr., Tom Towles, they are come in and work their parts. They might not be career highlights or do anything spectacularly memorable, but they fulfill their duties and do what is needed.
We know Smith can do villainy quite well since Robocop, and his icy emotionless director of the prison becomes a standard bad guy. He’s nowhere near as much fun to watch as he was in Robocop. Again, there’s nothing wrong with him he does what is needed. Is the character anything really special and will you remember him after the movie ends – probably not. But he’s fine.
Lambert has had his share of fans from the Highlander franchise. While I don’t mind him, he was never an actor I thought much of. I never felt much charisma from him and thought he was rather flat in the movies I’ve seen him in. Watching him now I’m struck by how much he looks like Thomas Jane. I like Jane much better.
So Lambert kind of does what I always expect to see him do. He gets into fights, runs around shooting some guns, gets tortured. I’ll say it again, he’s fine.
The same with his leading lady Locklin. Nothing extraordinary with her performance or character. In fact, I had trouble remembering anything much about what she does in the movie other than being pregnant and agreeing to shack up with Smith to spare her husband from torture.
The set design for the prison isn’t too bad. With the limits of the budget a lot of scenes look like a set for a sci-fi show during 1990s and they don’t sell very well at all. You’ll see the same sets being used over and over again. I kept thinking in some scenes if they moved the camera just a foot over we’d see crew members standing off to the side sipping coffee.
Some of the computer graphics that are used for some surreal moments look incredibly antiquated now. It’s like you’re watching a screen saver from a 1990 computer kick on.
One true highlight is the special effects and gore. There are mini bomb devices inserted into the prisoners where if they step over that red line BOOM – and of course that happens quite a few times. There’s a decent helping of bloody squibs and bodies exploding and all of that looks really good and gory.
Perhaps if Fortress was a bigger production with a larger budget with better visuals, a more interesting story and bigger A-List stars it would’ve been a big hit back in 1992. As it stands it’s a little sci-fi flick that has gotten a cult following through the years (even getting a sequel). It’s nothing spectacular and I don’t think it’s something that needs to be seen. It’s routine but enjoyable enough.