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F/X (also known as, or subtitled Murder by Illusion) is a 1986 action-thriller film about Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown), an expert in the art of Special Effects (F/X) with a reputation built on many low-budget hack and slash films (Including such titles as I Dismember Momma). The Department of Justicemarker hires him to stage the murder of a gangster about to enter the Witness Protection Program. He agrees, but then things get complicated. Meanwhile, a New York Citymarker police detective, Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy), is investigating the faked murder and cannot understand why the Department of Justice is even less helpful than usual.

A sequel, F/X2, was released in 1991. A spin-off TV-series entitled F/X: The Series was produced from 1996 to 1998.


Tyler is hired by the Department of Justicemarker to stage the fake murder of a mob informant, Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach). DeFranco is set to testify against his former Mafia bosses and the Department of Justice is afraid he'll be killed before the trial can begin. Tyler rigs a gun with blanks and fixes DeFranco up with radio transmitters and fake blood packs to simulate bullet hits. The Department of Justice supervisor, Colonel Mason (Mason Adams), specifically asks Tyler to be the "assassin" and wear a disguise.

DeFranco wears Tyler's rig to a public restaurant. The assassination appears to go flawlessly, however, when Tyler is picked up by the Department of Justice agent in charge, Lipton (Cliff DeYoung), the agent tries to shoot him. A struggle for his gun ensues and the car crashes, allowing Tyler to escape. Tyler is nearly killed in a phone booth a short time later and retreats to his girlfriend Ellen's (Diane Venora) apartment. In the morning, Ellen is shot by a sniper aiming for Tyler. Tyler kills the sniper when he enters the apartment to finish the job.

A Manhattan homicide detective, Leo McCarthy (Dennehy) becomes interested in the case because he's been pursuing DeFranco for several years. He discovers that the assassination was an illusion and that Tyler planned it.

Using an elaborate phone prank, Tyler brings Lipton out in the open and kidnaps him in his squad car. He stuffs Lipton into the trunk and tortures him for Mason's address, believing that DeFranco is hiding there, waiting to be transported out of the country. Tyler steals back his impounded van and escapes following a furious chase through Lower Manhattan. Tyler goes to Mason's mansion. Using his special effects expertise, he kills several of Mason's guards.

Suspecting that Tyler will kill him next, DeFranco shoots out several windows in Mason's study. Tyler falls through one of the windows, appearing to be dead. DeFranco tries to leave the house when the helicopter arrives but receives an electric shock from the house's security system (which Tyler may have specially rigged). The shock disrupts DeFranco's pacemaker and he dies of heart failure. Before he dies, he gives Mason a key to a Swissmarker safe deposit box containing all the funds he stole from the Mafia.

Mason prepares to leave and is confronted by Tyler, who points a UZI SMG at him. Mason tries to bribe Tyler with the key he took from DeFranco. Tyler considers the offer and places his gun on a table, hovering over it for a moment. He tells Mason that the plan won't work with the police outside. Mason grabs the gun Tyler had set down. Tyler shows Mason that he has the bullets for the gun and a tube of Krazy Glue, which he used to glue the gun to Mason's hands. He shoves Mason out the front door where he's shot by the police waiting outside. Among them is Leo McCarthy.

Tyler is taken to the morgue, still alive, and jumps out a window. He's immediately found by McCarthy. The film ends with Tyler impersonating DeFranco and retrieving the Mafia funds from the bank in Genevamarker.

Cast and characters

* Bryan Brown as Roland "Rollie" Tyler
* Brian Dennehy as Lt. Leo McCarthy
* Diane Venora as Ellen
* Cliff De Young as Lipton
* Mason Adams as Col. Eddie Mason
* Jerry Orbach as Nicholas DeFranco
* Joe Grifasi as Mickey
* Trey Wilson as Lt. Murdoch
* Tom Noonan as Varrick
* M'el Dowd as Joyce Lehman (Miss Lehman)


The unsolicited screenplay was written by two novice writers, actor Gregory Fleeman and documentary filmmaker Robert T. Megginson. Producer Jack Wiener read their script, which was submitted as a low-budget television movie, and felt that it should be made into a theatrical release. Wiener and his co-producer Dodi Fayed hired Robert Mandel, an Off Broadway director, because they did not want to hire an action director. They wanted a director that would bring a realistic touch and make the audience care about the main character. Mandel accepted the job because he wanted to dispel the perception that he was a "soft, arty director". Initially, he was not impressed with the film's screenplay which he felt was not well-crafted but felt that it provided for "a lot of action and a lot of things I did not have under my belt". In preparation for the film's action sequences, Mandel studied chase scenes from Bullitt and The French Connection. To pull off the film's special effects, the producers hired John Stears, who had worked on the first eight James Bond films and shared a special effects Academy Award for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

A preview screening in the San Fernando Valleymarker produced some of the best statistics Orion Pictures had seen in some time. A week before its release, a film industry screening was very successful, as did its premiere at the United States Film Festival (later known as the Sundance Film Festival).


While F/X performed well at the box office, grossing over $20 million in North America (well over its $10 million budget), executives at Orion Pictures, which financed and distributed the film, felt that it could have performed even better with a different title. One executive claimed that no one understood what the title meant and accepted it because it was what the producers wanted. Wiener admitted that they thought that the two letters together would be "provocative" like MASH and admitted that they had made a mistake.

Vincent Canby praised the look of the film in his review for The New York Times, writing, "although the movie, which looks as if it had been made on an A-picture budget, has a lot of the zest one associates with special-effects-filled B-pictures". Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "This movie takes a lot of delight in being more psychologically complex than it has to be. It contains fights and shootouts and big chase scenes, but they're all firmly centered on who the characters are and what they mean to one another". In his review for the Globe and Mail, Jay Scott wrote, "F/X is simply out to give a good time, which it does superbly". Paul Attanasio praised Brian Dennehy's performance in his review for the Washington Post: "Dennehy brings magic to the role - he's large, and he enlarges it. With his sly eyes and little can opener of a nose, his shoulders a yard wide, his hair massing in gray curls behind his ears, he dances through the movie like a mastodon in toe shoes". In his review for The Sunday Times, George Perry praised the film's premise as a "nice idea, but the effects themselves are merely ingenious when they might have been spectacular".


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