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Fortress (1992)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin, Jeffrey Combs, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Tom Towles, Vernon Wells

Written By: Troy Neighbors, Steven Feinberg, David Venabale, Terry Curtis Fox Directed By: Stuart Gordon

The Short Version

Christopher Lambert gets locked up in the SuperMax prison of the future!

Do not try to make sense of the story’s political system; it will hurt your head.

Fortress is utterly absurd, but it’s the fun kind of absurd.

How can you go wrong with a flick that invents words like “intestinate”?

Do you like Christopher Lambert or future world Dystopia?  If so, check out Fortress.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


It’s full of holes, but it’s good anyway.

Pairs Well With...


Yeah, the beer’s probably better than this movie deserves, but what the hell.  Christopher Lambert is worth a Euro-brewed upgrade.

“Your function is to monitor and control.  We do not observe for personal pleasure.”

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I actually skipped class to watch this movie when it came out in theatres.  (And no, this was not something I made a habit of doing.  Really.)  Looking back, I still don’t regret doing that.  Fortress was totally worth it.

Why, yes, I did type that with a straight face.  Why do you ask?

Is Fortress absurd?  Yes.  Is Fortress cheesy?  Yes.  Is Fortress just plain weird at times?  Yes.


Is Fortress fun?  Despite lots of popular naysaying, and readily admitting that the movie is loaded with flaws, yes, Fortress is fun, and that, at the end of the day, is what counts, at which point, things like “making sense” become optional.

As demonstrated by…

Our story begins in the year 2017.  Overpopulation has reached the crisis point in America.  In a scenario that is both patently absurd and frighteningly plausible depending on election results, the national response is to make it illegal for any woman to bear more than one child… but since women are really just property in a moral sense (eye roll), forget about birth control and abortion, too.  Those who are found guilty of becoming pregnant a second time after already having a child are put in prison.  Similarly, any pregnant woman trying to escape the United States is also put in prison.

I’m going to pause a minute here and ignore my own advice, because I have to.  Think about what you just read.  Even if we skip the hot potato that starts things off, just look at the very last part: pregnant women trying to escape the country are put in prison… and yet, the whole reason that becoming pregnant more than once is a crime is because the country is overpopulated.  You’d think that a pregnant woman leaving the country – especially with family in tow – would be part of a solution; after all, that’s at least two and possibly even more mouths that no longer have to be fed!  But really, just skip the logic; besides, the script’s got that covered with a conspiracy theory later on, anyway.

Moving on, former military hero John Brennick (Christopher Lambert, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) and his lovely wife Karen (Loryn Locklin, Taking Care of Business) are trying to escape across the border.  Why?  Because even though Karen was allegedly sterilized (in an apparently morally acceptable manner) after the birth of her son – who died almost immediately – she’s somehow become pregnant again.  Alas, the border guards catch on (forget metal detectors; in the future, it’s all about fetus detectors), and both John and Karen are hauled off to the Fortress: a vast underground prison that is privately maintained by the nefarious sounding Men-Tel corporation.  All prisoners are considered company property… including any unborn children.  Uh-oh.

If the Brennicks have any hope of seeing their child born in freedom, their only option is to find a way to escape both the prison and the country before Karen comes to term a few months down the line.  But no one has ever escaped the Fortress…

I freely confess: intellectually speaking, I should not like Fortress.  The premise makes no sense, the story’s thin, most of the characters are even thinner, and it has an air about it the screams “direct to video” even though it did get a major worldwide theatrical release.  And yet, Fortress has a certain “je ne sais quoi” about it that makes it too fun for me to dismiss and walk away from.

I’m sure that most of it is Christopher Lambert’s fault.  He’s always been one of my favorites, and if you’re a Lambert fan like me, Fortress will give you the fix you need.  As always, Lambert is the intense but nonchalant hero with the inimitable voice who can kick ass when called upon to do so, but who also puts more effort into thinking about things first than most of his action brethren.  Also as always, he’s perfectly believable as a regular guy, making it incredibly easily for the audience to make a connection with his character on the screen.  No, Fortress isn’t Lambert’s best effort, but it’s also far from being his worst, and Christopher Lambert on an average day is better than most action actors would be if they suddenly became anointed by all nine muses at once for 24 hours.  Alas, I don’t recall hearing his trademark snicker here, but hey, you can’t have everything, right?

With that said, what the ladies (and certain gentlemen, of course) can have is a case of “turnabout is fair play” in the form of fairly significant male nudity (why yes, that does mean “frontal”), while any female nudity save for one very quick side boob shot in a shower is highly distorted.  (Hold that thought.)  This distinction also includes a dream sequence sex scene involving our hero and his wife wherein the missus stays fully covered, but our hero actually flashes the audience a nad shot.  No, I’m not kidding.

But let’s step back a moment and talk about those dream sequences, shall we?

Part of the funkified weirdness that is Fortress involves the prison’s central computer system, Zed-10 (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, The Pit and the Pendulum) being able to scan a sleeping prisoner’s mind and project an image of what that prisoner is dreaming onto a wall of screens for the prison’s warden, Poe (Kurtwood Smith, RoboCop), to “inspect.”  Considering that all but two floors of this 35+ level prison consist of guys who haven’t had sex with a real woman in years, you can imagine what most of the dreams are about.  Alas for the audience, Zed-10 can only project the dreams in a highly distorted infrared type view, but it’s never difficult to figure out what’s going on… especially since the warden – who also happens to be hard up in ways that are too awful to imagine – really seems to enjoy his porn.  And when he’s done, he can then direct Zed-10 to interrupt the dream by having his own voice declare – usually from the mouth of the woman being fantasized about – that the prisoner is having an unauthorized thought process, after which Zed-10 wakes the prisoner up with her own extra special form of punishment.

What form of punishment is that?  I’m so glad that you asked!

It is, of course, common practice for science fiction flicks to invent their own words, but few jump out at a person quite like the linguistic contribution made by Fortress in the form of “intestinate.”  That just sounds fascinatingly nasty as hell, doesn’t it?  As it so happens, it is.  While most science fiction maximum security prisons are content to slap explosive collars around the necks of their prisoners, the Men-Tel corporation has upped the ante by shoving tubes down the throats of new prisoners through which golf ball sized devices of doom are shot into their intestinal tracts, where they lodge themselves.  Amazingly, these devices don’t seem to harm digestive function at all, but they do serve as permanent torture devices that Zed-10 can trigger at any time.  This is “intestination.”  The first setting causes the prisoner to grab his gut and double over in pain; the second setting causes the bomb inside to explode and disembowel the poor sap.  Sounds like take-out from a lousy Chinese restaurant, doesn’t it?

I must admit that I laughed out loud at the absurdity when a prisoner’s intestination device exploded and another prisoner just calmly shuffled over with a mop and bucket to clean up the gory mess.

Speaking of explosions, Fortress is not exactly what I would call a wall-to-wall action powerhouse, but when the action does come, so does the blood.  The team that brought you Re-Animator back in the mid-80s does remember its roots, my friends.  (And yes, that’s Herbert West himself – genre favorite Jeffrey Combs – as the nerdy “D-Day.”)  When the prisoner I mentioned a moment ago showed up with the mop and bucket, it may have been funny, but it was also necessary.  Indeed, I doubt that one bucket was enough.

And yet, this very effectiveness when it comes to most of the film’s violence is what, for me, provides one of the biggest chinks in this film’s off-the-wall armor.  After some great bloody encounters earlier on, the (bloodless) final battle feels like an afterthought and a letdown, even with the big explosion.  In terms of story, it closes neatly, but in terms visceral reaction… that was it?

Despite the disappointing ending, though, I can’t help but look fondly upon Fortress anyway.  Even the really disturbing shirtless shot of Kurtwood Smith (there’s an earlier scene where you see him being shaved; once the shirt is off, you see that he didn’t get shaved nearly enough) isn’t enough to turn me away… though it may be worth an extra beer for coping purposes.  Cheesy though the movie may be, there’s a really good cast and crew behind it, and they know how to thread the “cult favorite” needle with precision.

Bottom line, Fortress may be cheesy, and Fortress may be more than a little absurd (though it plays, always, with a straight face), but if you’re a Christopher Lambert fan, you’re absolutely going to want to pick this one up anyway.  Even if you’re not, there’s still enough off-the-wall interest here to keep any fan of near-future Dystopia flicks happy for an hour and a half.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2012

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