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Sunday, March 25, 2012

RAPID FEAR -- movie review by porfle

With a slick bank robbery and a chase involving helicopters and jet skis, RAPID FEAR (2004) gets off to a good start, and makes you think you're about to watch a cracking crime thriller.  Then, when the leader of the bank robbery trio, James Storer (Peter Kent) is shown getting out of prison ten years later and told that a condition of his parole is that he must now counsel teen offenders, this Australian production appears to be turning into one of those rehabilitation dramas like Michael Mann's BAND OF THE HAND.  But wait--it still hasn't settled into what it wants to be just yet.

James is assigned to take a group of juvenile delinquents on a rafting expedition down a raging river, which is supposed to teach them teamwork and cooperation and stuff.  But when we see a mysterious figure lurking about in the woods and members of the group start disappearing, it looks like we're in for a "Ten Little Indians"-style stalker/slasher flick.  Especially after one of the teens, Nick (Guy Edmonds), regales the others with a campfire tale about an asylum for the dangerously insane that used to be located somewhere in the vicinity. 

So, is that the deal--they're being stalked by some psycho who intends to pick them off one by one?  Our uncertainty is increased when we discover that James has enlisted his former cronies, Wilson and Smart, to secretly tag along and help scare the kids straight, so to speak.  But neither one of these guys resembles the shadowy figure we've seen sneaking around in the woods, so what the heck's going on?

Actually, I was hoping for a little slasher action to commence since the teenagers in this movie are such an insufferable bunch of smart-alecky punks.  Sure, we get to know them a little better later on and maybe not hate them quite as much, but for awhile there I was just itching for a few of them to meet some creative deaths.  But that was when I still thought this was going to be a slasher movie, which it isn't.

In fact, I really can't even tell you what kind of movie this eventually turns out to be, since that would necessitate giving away too much about the climactic events.  I can say that it keeps you guessing for most of its running time, and there's a fair amount of suspense as we see the kids trying to make their way down the churning rapids ("rapid" fear--get it?) or running away from the person or persons who are revealed to be behind it all. 

But when we do discover what's really going on, it's a pretty big letdown.  It's one of those situations where you just know the filmmakers aren't going to do a certain thing because that would be way too obvious, and they go ahead and do it anyway.

The acting, for the most part, is broad but not that bad.  Peter Kent does a good job of making Storer a likable character, and the younger actors succeed in making their characters unlikable.  As Wilson and Smart, Gary Atkinson and Rico Rameko Lescot look the part but aren't very convincing. 

The best performance comes from Steven Grives as Tremaine, the hardboiled cop who originally captured Storer and is determined to make him reveal where he stashed the bank loot ten years earlier.  I'd like to have seen more of him in this movie--aside from a few good scenes, his character is pretty much wasted, just as all that bank robbery and prison stuff that piqued our interest in the opening scenes turns out to be merely a set-up for the less intriguing situations that follow.

There's a surprise ending that's supposed to leave us with a smile but doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  On the whole, RAPID FEAR doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either--it's a fairly entertaining time-waster, but ultimately disappointing because it seems to have the potential of being so much more.

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