Directed by James Foley. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, William Petersen, Amy Brenneman, Alyssa Milano. (1996, R, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., April 19, 1996
Despite a few scattered moments of visceral excitement, the only thing truly frightening about the oh-so-ominously titled Fear is how so many talented people came to be involved in so inane a project. This story of a beleaguered father (Petersen) trying to protect his smitten teenage daughter (Witherspoon) from a drug-dealing, trash-talking, randomly violent psychopath (Wahlberg) was written by Christopher Crowe, who showed promise with his work on Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans re-make in 1992, but betrays that promise here with a terribly generic screenplay filled with stock characters and unintentionally funny dialogue. To make matters worse, the film is directed by James Foley, the gifted filmmaker who brought us At Close Range, After Dark, My Sweet, and the stunning Glengarry Glen Ross. Seemingly oblivious to the quality of the material he's working with, Foley seems determined to helm Fear as if it were a straight-faced, hard-edged thriller, but the final result is entertaining only as high camp -- it's far too lame to work as an intense drama and too boring to succeed as exploitation. The campy nature of the picture is only increased by the presence of former New Kid on the Block and underwear model Mark Wahlberg, laughable in his poorly written role as the Boyfriend from Hell. Faring even worse are Crowe's female characters; co-stars Reese Witherspoon, Amy Brenneman, and Alyssa Milano have little to do but be lectured, terrorized, and abused by the film's possessive male characters. Only William Petersen, the underrated star of To Live and Die in L.A. and Manhunter, seems to realize how silly the whole affair is, so it's hardly surprising that his intentionally over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance is one of the few genuine pleasures in this otherwise misguided picture. Likewise, Carter Burwell -- still one of Hollywood's most overlooked film composers despite scoring classics such as Miller's Crossing -- adds yet another solid soundtrack to his already impressive catalog, although his music here is all too often discarded in favor of dull alt/rock background filler. Other pluses include some terrific Foley work (no pun intended) and Thomas Kloss' slick wide-screen cinematography, but these embellishments, although welcome, don't really make Fear a good movie, merely a more palatable one.