F/X Murder By Illusion Review


Ironically, for a film about the art of special-effects, what’s on show here isn’t anything beyond the rudimentary but there’s a distinct charm about protagonist Rollie Tyler’s movie-magic trickery that makes this overtly eighties film so enjoyable. Bryan Brown plays Tyler, a special-effects wizard who after his latest movie is asked to perform a fake assassination for the Justice Department. However, not all goes to plan as Tyler is framed for the murder that he thought he’d faked, and after narrowly escaping death himself, he has to use all the tricks he knows to evade those that want to kill him, and the police that want to arrest him.

The plot comes across as a convoluted wannabe detective story with the ‘secrets of movie-making revealed’ forming the perfect trappings to corner an ultra-light, escapist-craving market. But this is little more than James Bond Jr. substituting ‘Q’ and ‘M’ for his ‘ABCs’, a film with enough mystery to intrigue but not enough to divert, it’s total lack of pretension making for what is simple but perfect entertainment. Essentially, director Robert Mandel’s film is all about the magic, and less about the ‘how to’, its murder-mystery plot being the perfect story to centre it all around. And as Mandel pushes the film along at breakneck speed as the ‘who does it’ in the film business tries to figure out ‘whodunit’ in the assassination world, F/X is formed into a rather great late-night entertainer.

Of course the film has its flaws, most notably some gaping plot holes that will have even the least discerning viewer scratching their head, as the characters, especially Rollie Tyler himself, make some exceedingly strange choices about how they go about their lives – indeed, how they protect their very right to live. Yet this is a film about movie-magic and as such, it seems unfair to degrade it for pushing the boundaries of our suspension of disbelief as it celebrates the movie-ideals it pays homage to. It has the requisite component parts from some well-timed comedy, some decent action sequences, and elements of self-referential parody. Leads Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy are both good in their roles, as Brown maintains enough hard-man nuances to merit his survival, with a collected calm that enables the audience to associate with him, while Dennehy is joyously sarcastic as good guy/bad cop Leo McCarthy, his dry delivery making for some standout moments.


Unfortunately, F/X hasn’t been blessed with an anamorphic transfer but we do get its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in non-anamorphic form. The picture is actually fairly good – I viewed it on my 16:9 television and it looked good despite it not having anamorphic enhancement. Flesh tones are natural and there’s plenty of detail evident in the image, however, colours overall do appear a little faded and grey but that could be down to the subdued photography. The print is in good condition despite displaying some grain and an odd speck of dirt here and there, but it isn’t distracting and to be fair, the film probably wouldn’t look any better with anamorphic enhancement.

The sound is simple Dolby Digital 2.0 but it is rather good for 2-channel audio. Dialogue is clear and nicely separated across the front channels providing a genuine sense of ambience. The track falls down however during the action sequences and scenes that would have benefited from rear channel and sub-woofer usage, as the sound appears slightly thin and muted. Yet, the film’s best moments hardly require great surround sound, so this is fine for the film.

The DVD contains subtitled English for the hard of hearing, as well as a Theatrical Trailer


F/X is a really enjoyable film that shows its eighties origins in every scene, but its simple escapist entertainment is a joy to watch. It’s nice to witness a movie industry not saturated by teams of computer wiz-kids and their CGI special-effects, as it concerns itself with the hands-on trickery of prosthetics, fake blood and radio controlled gunshot wounds. This is light entertainment, but entertainment all the same.

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