Screenplay : Christopher Crowe
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Mark Wahlberg (David McCall), Reese Witherspoon (Nicole Walker), William Petersen (Steve Walker), Amy Brenneman (Laura Walker), Alyssa Milano (Margo Masse), Christopher Gray (Toby)
Girls today grow up too fast. In the modern fast-paced, MTV-stylized, sex-driven consumer society, there are too many myths and mysteries about growing up that have been lost in the neon exuberance of always wanting to be ten years older than you actually are. There's nothing special about being sixteen - you just want to be twenty. And, along with that, the American family system has degenerated into a convenience, and father-daughter relationships are strained at best.
All of this is what lurks underneath the new thriller "Fear." Once you hose off the oozy, Seattle music video shell it sells itself under, you might be surprised to find some basic human truths. If Fatal Attraction was meant to scare men away from committing adultery, "Fear" is meant to scare adolescent girls away from trying to grow up so fast.
The movie stars Reese Witherspoon, who some may remember from her 1991 debut in one of the year's best films, a small, quiet piece called "The Man In The Moon." Here she plays Nicole Walker, an sixteen-year-old girl who has the typical internal conflict of being virginal, but still trying to keep up with her friend Margo (Alyssa Milano) who lives her life careening in the fast lane. Enter Mark Wahlberg as David McCall, an older, handsome guy who offers her sweetness and loss of innocence all rolled into one irresistible package.
Nicole's father, William (William Peterson), warily accepts David into the family, but once the boyfriend loses his temper and Dad finds a condom wrapper under the bed, it's all over and the conflict has begun. Next thing you know, the family is torn apart, people are being murdered, and Wahlberg is tatooing "Nicole 4-Evu" in his chest with a razor and a ballpoint pen.
Wahlberg does all he can with the character, but there's not much there. Either he's all sweets, or all psycho. There is no solid development of the underlying psychosis that made Glenn Close's role in "Fatal Attraction" so memorable and so believeable. It's either "Yes, sir, I'll have your daughter home on time," or "I'm going to kill you." Any credibility that might have been there is lost, and unfortunately, so is the movie.
"Fear" was directed by James Foley, who has had an uneven career, to say the least. At his best, he has made superior films such as David Mamet's "Glengarry Glenn Ross." But at the same time, he can be held responsible for such stinkers as Madonna's bomb "Who's That Girl?"
In "Fear" he exhibits some strong mastery of the cinematic art, but he is too hindered by a contrived script penned by writer/director Christopher Crowe, who also wrote and directed the implausible 1992 psycho-thriller "Whispers In The Dark". The script goes through the motions of setting up a potentially interesting father-daughter relationship consisting of abandonment, forgiveness, and jealousy, but it is never really explored. The buttons are there, they just never get pushed. Instead, it becomes just another plotline lost in the mindless violence.
The main problem with "Fear" is that fifteen minutes into it, you could probably make a list of all the things that are going to happen. It's a formula movie from start to finish, never daring to stray off the path. Yes, you know the girl will get involved with the wrong guy, disobey Daddy, figure out she's wrong, and run back into Daddy's protective arms. Yes, you know the innocent plutonic friend will be killed. Yes, you know that the father will go off the deep end and break the law instead of going to it (ala "Cape Fear"), thus causing himself and his family more trouble. And, yes, you know the family pet will be mutilated, the car will be destroyed in a parking garage, and it will all come down to the obligatory climatic show-down between the psycho boyfriend and the father, with the daughter standing by with tears in her eyes.
By the time all this is over and the credits roll, it feels as though nothing has happened because there was nothing new. It all feels hollow, and nothing stays with you except the ringing in your ears from the overbearing Seattle-grunge soundtrack.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat