Fortress/Total Recall 2070 (DVD)

In a high-tech future, man is the only flaw.

It’s the future. John Brennick (Christopher Lambert, Highlander) and his wife are on the run, because she’s pregnant with their second child. Each couple is allowed only one birth, and any other babies are confiscated by the government. The couple is apprehended at the border, and Brennick is placed inside the fortress, an underground prison in the middle of an inhospitable desert, where cons are fitted with bombs in their intestines to keep them in line, and a mind-reading computer monitors their thoughts day and night to prevent impulses to escape. But there’s no stopping Brennick, a former military man, who uses all his tough-guy skills to fight his way through the fortress to confront its sinister director (Kurtwood Smith, That ’70s Show) and retake his freedom.

Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) knows exactly what type of movie Fortress is, and he’s smart enough to run with it. He takes the basic conceit of “futuristic prison escape” and turns it into trashy B-movie fun, with loads of blood, fighting, explosions and weirdness. He and the six credited screenwriters also pile crazy sci-fi concept upon crazy sci-fi concept throughout. Not only are we dealing with all the high-tech toys of the fortress, but our heroes must contend with genetic engineering run amok and an A.I. with sinister plans of its own. Granted, it does take a while before escape really kicks into gear, but once it does, we’re treated to some over-the-top gunplay, fighting and gory violence.

At other times, though, Fortress wallows in prison movie clichés. Some of the characters Brennick encounters on the inside include the threatening tough guy who eventually becomes one of the group, the young guy in over his head, the brainy guy whose science/engineering skills come in handy, and the grizzled old guy who’s been in there forever. It even has that one scene that’s in every prison movie, where the warden calls our hero into his office and makes that speech that starts with, “I read your file…” Impatient viewers might be bored through these parts, waiting for Gordon and company to make the carnage again.

The creators do a good job introducing the fortress and making it seem truly impenetrable. I wonder, though, if they hadn’t properly thought out the concept of the mind-reading computer. It supposedly reads the thoughts of prisoners, so that they cannot even consider an escape, and it watches their dreams, so that any time they dream of happiness outside the fortress, that dream is cut short. This is nice and freaky, but when it does and doesn’t read minds is dependent entirely on whether the plot demands it at that moment. Plus, if you’ve got a telepathic computer, wouldn’t you want to put it to better use than in the prison system?

Lambert does the stoic action hero thing with confidence, as fans of the Clan MacLeod already know. Smith hams it up nicely as the villain, and Jeffrey Coombs (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) brings a number of odd quirks to his prisoner character, which is just what we all expect from him. Overall, Fortress isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, from either the prison genre or the sci-fi genre, but there’s enough popcorn fun to be had that you won’t hate yourself afterward.

If only the same were true of the second movie on this disc, Total Recall 2070. This is the pilot to the short-lived TV series of the same name, which was made in Canada, and then aired for a while on Showtime and then in syndication. It only evokes the Schwarzenegger Total Recall in its first few minutes, as a character heroically saves the oxygen supply on Mars. Then, this is revealed to be nothing more than the guy’s Rekall virtual vacation. He and his lady friend are murdered by androids. From then on out, forget the movie, because the rest of the show is about cops dealing with evil androids. Sure, they do get back Mars stuff eventually, but it’s hardly the eye-bulging craziness we remember from the movie. Allegedly, the show’s producers claimed that they based their show on writer Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?, and because Total Recall was loosely based on another of Dick’s stories, that gave them justification to name their show after the Schwarzenegger movie. Or something. Who am I to question the flawless logic of television producers?

Let’s say you don’t care about any of that, and you just want to watch a fun sci-fi show. No such luck. This thing is dreadfully dull. It’s your basic “buddy cop” formula, with a human cop being paired with an android partner, you know, like the evil androids that they’re hunting down. Now our human cop has to learn tolerance and understanding, etc. They could have had some fun with all this, but instead everybody is grim and overly serious all the time, and that makes it a slog to get through the end. Michael Easton (VR.5), an actor I normally like, mopes his way through the proceedings as our heroic cop, so much so that I didn’t care if he nabbed the bad guys or not.

Tech specs are decent, but unspectacular, with soft colors and pedestrian sound. Not a single bonus feature.

The Verdict

Fortress: Not guilty. Total Recall 2070: How do I sign up for one of those “memory wipe” things?

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