Fortress (1993) Movie Review

If you can ignore the first 6 minutes or so of 1993’s “Fortress”, then the rest is relatively entertaining. In a nutshell: in the near future, the U.S. is a fascist country that limits one child per couple. Our leads, played by Christopher Lambert (“The Point Men”) and Loryn Locklin as a married couple, are sneaking out of the country because Locklin’s character is pregnant with their second child. (The first, we learn, died at childbirth.) Now here’s the thing: why in the world would you go to such great lengths to stop citizens from leaving the country who are pregnant (and has broken the one-child law)? Doesn’t the fact that they’re leaving the country, thus no longer taking up valuable (and limited) resources with their second child be a good thing? The government should be opening up the borders for citizens to leave, not trying to stop them!

Also, if the couple’s first baby died at childbirth, then the couple technically has no baby — so how would having another baby — but in essence, only one baby — be taking up unnecessary resources? Did all the resources get “used up” when the first baby was born and then quickly died? Of course not, that’s stupid. So shouldn’t the couple be allowed to have another baby because, frankly, they never had a baby to begin with? Now do you see why the film’s first 6 minutes, which has the couple literally fighting their way out of the country, seem not only superfluous, but downright silly?

Of course the whole one-child gimmick is nothing more than a necessary plot point to send the Brennicks to a futuristic prison as punishment. (Lambert’s John gets — get this — 30-something years for his “crime”!) The prison is privately run by the Evil Men-Tel Corporation and is called the Fortress. It is gigantic, high-tech, and alas, full of contradictions. Then again, “Fortress” is basically a B-movie made at a time when the phrase “B-Movie” still didn’t have quite the stigma it does now. Back then, “Fortress” was a candidate for theatrical release, but it would never have made it past the store shelves today.

Aside from the absurdity of stopping “one-child criminals” at the border, the film’s other ridiculous conceit is the construction of the Fortress itself. Needless to say, it’s impossible that the Men-Tel organization could make any semblance of profit out of housing prisoners in its 13-story underground complex. This place is just huge. What is the Evil Government paying these Evil Corporation — millions of dollars for each criminal? That would seem to be the only way they can make a profit and thus afford to keep the place open.

The other obvious bad idea is the prison’s computer, which can not only sense if someone is dreaming, but can see their dream as it happens. You may think that if technology has advanced this far in the future that someone might have invented a “cure” for criminality rather than spend millions (probably billions) on a gigantic underground prison. Then again, why am I trying to insert logic into “Fortress”? The screenwriters sure as heck didn’t bother to.

If you were to ignore all of the questionable writing in “Fortress” (and there’s quite a bit to ignore, unfortunately) then “Fortress” is a reasonably entertaining movie. After John arrives in prison, he’s not all too bothered to be there since he thinks Karen (Locklin) got away. But it turns out he was wrong, and Karen is in fact already in the female wing of the prison. Worst, the prison’s twisted warden (Kurtwood Smith) has developed an unhealthy fixation with the lovely Karen, who is still carrying John’s child. In the future, where abortion is illegal, aborted fetuses are used as — well, why should I ruin it for you? The scene when Karen discovers the Awful Truth is probably the film’s funniest moments — although I’m sure it wasn’t supposed to be.

“Fortress” was made on a moderate budget, so it can afford some nifty toys and elaborate set designs. And although it’s supposed to take place in the future, many of the movie’s technology are still not so out there as to be impossible. With, of course, the exception of that roaming computer eye that can “see” people’s dreams. Now that’s just plain silly, and really turns what could have been a moderately passable prison film into hopeless fiction. Lambert, the star, does pretty well as Brennick, although it should be noted that his voice was “going” way back then. And Loryn Locklin is very easy on the eyes, so those are pluses.

“Fortress” is not a bad movie at all. It’s only illogical when it tries to be too ambitious, but mostly succeeds when it sticks to action and the prison breakout sequences. This is one of those movies that would have worked much better if the filmmakers had held back a bit on the extravagant nature of the prison. Couldn’t a prison in, say, Antarctica work just as well? Or one in an isolated desert? Why did it have to be a gigantic underground complex? I think the answer to that question is a simple one: because the “concept” sounded great.

Stuart Gordon (director) / Troy Neighbors, Steven Feinberg, David Venable, Terry Curtis Fox (screenplay)
CAST: Christopher Lambert …. John Henry Brennick
Kurtwood Smith …. Prison Director Poe
Loryn Locklin …. Karen B. Brennick
Clifton Collins Jr. …. Nino Gomez

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