Fair Game (1986)

‘Ozploitation’

This lazy word is the unofficial name for a certain sub-genre of movies that emerged from Down Under during a renaissance of grindhouse-style ‘exploitation’ films that ran from the 1970’s, right through till the end of the 80’s (and beyond, it can be argued). Now, for the average movie-goer, the two most well-known entries into this category would be the forever classic Mad Max series (1979, 1981, 1985, 2015), and the surprise comedy hit of 1986, Crocodile Dundee, though it can be argued that Dundee sits just outside of Ozploitation, as comedies don’t seem to be often (if ever) associated with the category. It also came about at a time when North America’s apparent fascination with all things Australian hit a tangible fever pitch.  However, there was another Aussie offering that year, albeit one without similar financial backing or success, and it came in the form of Fair Game.

Now prior to this, I had no knowledge of this flick. The only Fair Game(s) that I was aware of were the cheeseball high-concept thriller / box office failure starring William Baldwin (Flatliners) and my walking wet-dream of the 90’s Cindy Crawford (which I should one day revisit, just to confirm just how bad it REALLY is), and the 2010 ‘inspired by real events’ docu-drama by director Doug Liman (Go), starring Australian hottie Naomi Watts (The Ring), which I have not yet seen. But then, while I was researching the specs for the Blu ray of one of the most prominent Oz flicks, Razorback (you can scope my review HERE – https://thekneejerkreaction.com/2013/06/30/razorback-1984/), I kept seeing mention of THIS flick in the associated reviews and it got me curious. Being that getting back in touch with Razorback (a flick I admittedly hold in fairly high regard, despite having only seen it once nearly 10 years ago) has fired up the desire to leap into more Ozploitation offerings, it seemed that Fair Game, with Hollywood notables like Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) singing its praises, was a logical ‘next step’ when cinematically going Down Under (cue Men At Work!).

Unlike Razorback, which proved to be surprisingly hard to find as a streaming option (resulting in a ‘oh, fuck it’ purchase on Amazon, which I’m awaiting delivery of at the time of this writing), Fair Game, in its entirety, turned up on Youtube (with a not terrible looking transfer to boot), much to my surprise.

Fair Game centers on ‘Jessica’ (Cassandra Delaney), the beautiful owner / operator of a modest Outback animal sanctuary. Her quiet, unassuming life is thrown upside down when she inadvertently runs afoul of a trio of unhinged kangaroo poachers – ’Sunny’(Peter Ford), ‘Ringo’ (David Sandford), and ‘Sparks’ (Garry Who), who set up shop on her expanse of land and begin targeting the various animals in her care. After realizing that the law has no interest in helping her, ‘Jessica’ is forced to take matters into her own hands when the trio’s campaign of aggression and terror continues to escalate.

SO, while my wife was taking one of our fur babies to the vet (boo to expensive, upcoming canine surgery!), I parked my ass with our other little fur brat…and my pen and pad…and hit PLAY.

Here lie them scribbles…

OK, really cheezy synth score. This will become a recurring theme (pun sorta intended) and it will also become a recurring problem. Just you wait.

Really ‘on the nose’ imagery and sound – antagonist’s vehicle. So, in seeking out a little background info on the flick, I discovered that the main antagonist vehicle, a heavily modified 1977 Ford F100, was nicknamed The Beast and given the footage we see beneath the opening credits, the reason for this moniker becomes readily apparent. Not only do we see it (though not those onboard) crashing around in the darkness of a night in the Outback, all lit in horror movie lighting, the engine is literally given roaring and growling noises too. Like I scribbled – on the nose.

Cheezy title reveal. Very ‘grindhouse’. It’s one of those abrupt, freeze-frame, title-smashes-through-screen kinda reveals. Hilarious and retro-cool all at once.

Total Mad Max vehicle! This should be a natural first thought for anyone familiar with THAT surprisingly long-lived franchise, when getting that first full body shot of The Beast, with it’s crazy, 6” wrap-around chrome piping and glowing red headlights. If you were to stick this truck in among the fleets of either Lord Hummungus or Immortan Joe, it would blend in almost effortlessly.

Ok, cool stunt work. Ballsy. Another aspect that instantly took me back to Max’s wasteland was some of the all or nothing stunt-work, with some crazy, high-speed, vehicle-to-vehicle action popping up during ‘Jessica’s initial high-speed run-in with the three assholes. It’s the kinda of stunt-work that A) has almost become a staple of the Oz genre and B) could easily maim or kill someone if something went wrong. Exhilarating stuff.

Lead actress very ‘Kathy Ireland’, with a touch of Linda Hamilton thrown in. Again going back to the days of Cindy Crawford, fellow Elite model Kathy Ireland, another absolute beauty at the height of her fame, came to mind several times as I watched Cassandra Delaney do her thing. And yep…at times and from certain angles, there was also a hint of Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) in there too. Either way, the woman had a look that worked for lil ole me.

Yep, these are creeps. This was scribbled in direct response to a scene where ‘Ringo’, the youngest and most unpredictable of the trio, hides beneath ‘Jessica’s car outside a market, popping out in time to snap a dirty up-skirt Polaroid as she goes to get back in. Why she only opted to merely empty out a recently purchased bag of flour on his exposed head, as opposed to stomping his nose into his brain with her heel, was a little beyond me.

Nothing had better happen to that dog! ‘Jessica’ has a loyal and intelligent canine companion and given the nasty undercurrent of this flick and its underlying animal abuse motif, I felt a tremor in the Force that the poor pooch’s time was limited. As a dog owner / lover, this is not cool.

Some really cool cinematography. One thing that has attracted me to re-explore this particular genre is the quality of the cinematography on display. Many of the Oz flicks I’ve seen in the past have managed to elevate their often lurid or edgy subject matter through the careful application of good-looking and stylish visuals and compositions, and in that regard, Fair Game is no different. It has that wide-angle, long-lens documentary feel that I love, that air of ‘polished grit’, a term I normally use to describe the works of ‘Hollywood’ directors like Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony Scott(especially), among others. The ‘look’ definitely worked for me.

Haha! Hilariously fake phone conversation! I actually laughed out loud during this scene. Early on, ‘Jessica’ gets into a conversation with someone on the phone and it’s hilarious. I’m not sure what director Mario Andreacchio’s directions would’ve been but I wouldn’t think he’d have told Delaney to ‘speak without the intention of letting the other person speak too’. She runs through the lines so fast that the other party on the other end of the phone would never have time to answer naturally. It just struck me as funny and left me chuckling.

Surprisingly hot but restrained gratuitous nudity scene. It wouldn’t be an exploitation flick without some gratuitous nudity. The scene in question is a simple one – after her first run-in with the three dickweeds, once she’s returned home, we see the heat having its way with ‘Jessica’, resulting in her stripping down in front of a fan and putting herself to bed. However, I have to give this movie extra credit for how they showed it. There’s NO doubt that Delaney got full-on starkers for this scene, but the way it’s shot and edited, you don’t ACTUALLY get a full look at her lovely girl parts. Her nether areas are masked (barely but effectively) by bedding and shadows and I was caught equally turned-on AND impressed by their artistic use of restraint. You see a lot…without seeing anything.

Why is she alone?! This is one element that occurred to me partway through, as the shit really seemed to be hitting the fan. Aside from ‘Jessica’, we don’t see anyone else on her property who belongs there. She’s all alone on this sizeable sprawl of Outback land, which sharply focus’ her victim status when the trio comes for her. If we got any explanation in the narrative regarding her marital status or sexual orientation, I somehow missed it. Bottom line is, no real explanation (that I heard) covered why a beautiful, compassionate and intelligent woman like her would not have SOMEONE else in her life that could help off-set the odds when they work against her on her own property.

Cheezy score offsets the mood…poorly. Here we go again. The goddamn score intrudes, smacking the overall quality of the flick down in one deft move.

I fear for the dog! As the proceedings grew more sinister and violent, my fear for ‘Jessica’s pooch returned.

Wait, no supplies of ANY kind? In the Outback? At one point, ‘Jessica’s car breaks down (legit mechanical or sabotage is never establishedor is it?), and she and her dog are forced to march across the Outback in order to get back to the perceived safety of home. It seemed odd to me that someone who has opted to live in an area as desolate and potentially deadly as we’re shown wouldn’t have the wherewithal to also keep survival supplies in the vehicle too. Water, clothes, weapons etc. But nope…not ‘Jessica’.

Her skimpy attire does not fit, or seem smart. By fit, I mean ‘fit into the environment’, not fit to her body, which it most certainly does. Following her car’s breakdown and the subsequent trek through the underbrush, it REALLY stood out how ill-prepared she was to be bush-whacking. And when I say ill-prepared, we’re talking about a flimsy tube top / shorts combo and sandals, not exactly the gear one would intelligently choose to go traipsing around a continent where pretty much EVERYTHING can kill you.

Goddamn, this music is fucked up! Definitely points against. “Whoop! There it is!” Again.

By this point I was starting to get actively pissed off. The movie itself is, in my opinion, of a standard higher than I was expecting (I went in expecting some vile and ugly I Spit on Your Grave bullshit), but through the obnoxious overuse of the atrocious score, its overall quality kept getting dunked on. The so-called music is grating and legitimately hard to listen to, like a toddler banging away on some 1980’s keyboard with no sense of rhythm or pace.

Movie feels appropriately grimy. I love grime in movies. Here, the characters and ‘world’ are sweat soaked and dusty, surrounded by rust and decay. A couple times, I found myself wondering how a Mad Max movie from this period would look, if Writer / Director George Miller stepped away and let fellow Aussie Mario Andreacchio take the helm. Everything is worn and roughly lived in, and it worked for me.

OF COURSE, there’s an inconveniently timed snake! At one point, ‘Jessica’ is trying to stealth her way away from her tormentors by hiding beneath a cliff they’re using for an overlook perch and while she’s clinging there precariously, a snake just happens to slither onto the scene, increasing the stakes and her chances of getting caught…or worse. It’s a tension-building cliché’ that we’ve all seen countless times before and it came as absolutely no surprise.

Oh, here we go…shit’s about to get rapey. And…I was wrong. Just when it seemed like another ‘Jessica is prey’ scene was going to finally degenerate into sordid I Spit on Your Grave (1978) territory…it didn’t. The intention was there…but then the narrative (thankfully) veered away.

*I Spit on Your Grave is one of the most depraved and ugly pieces of ’rape and revenge’ cinema I’ve ever seen and it set a certain standard way down low, a standard I will actively strive to avoid. I don’t like feeling like a shower is needed after I watch a flick.

Props to the actress. She commits! Say what you will, but Cassandra Delaney clearly took the material seriously and her commitment to the strength and smarts of ‘Jessica’ ALMOST gives the character a thin ‘Ellen Ripley’ / ‘Sarah Connor’ vibe. And I stress ALMOST. I’ve also never seen her in anything else (that I know of), but as introductions go, hers could’ve been worse.

Creative move. Gun sculpture. In one of the moments where ‘Jessica’ takes the fight to the three murderous assholes who’ve invaded her property and butchered many of her animals, we see her sneak to their camp under cover of night. Being that these morons were too stupid or underestimating to bother posting a guard, she’s able to make off with not only their three main hunting rifles but also an industrial welder they have among their supplies. The next morning, the fellas find that she welded the guns together into a Fuck You type statue nearby. Their anger prompts new firearms to be drawn and a new hunt begins.

These assholes MIGHT be misogynists. And she gets caught…again. Only this time shit seems really serious. After roughing her up and potentially getting rapey again (*SPOILER* – they don’t), they lash her to the hood of The Beast like a dead animal before cutting her shirt off and tearing off into the underbrush with their new trophy helpless and terrified.

Ballsy…and completely exploitative stunt / performance. Hood ornament. Large sections of this scene really do look like a titillatingly half-nude Cassandra Delaney is actually tied to the front of a marauding Ford as it tears through the brush and along the rough dirt roads. Very Mad Max-ian.

This woman has been put through the ringer! To their detriment, ‘Sunny’, ‘Ringo’ and ‘Sparks’ don’t kill her when they’re done. After passing out on the hood of the racing Beast, Jessica comes to collapsed in the dirt, seemingly unraped and definitely unmurdered. Understandably, the poor woman looks like hammered shit and barely makes it back to her home, where large scores of her beloved sanctuary animals lie dead, killed as part of the trios cycle of revenge and torment.

But she’s not done yet.

Finally! Sensible gear. After some time to lay low and recover, ‘Jessica’ heads back out, only this time clad in some proper clothes and bush hat…though the khaki Daisy Dukes were a little questionable. Now she can blend in with greater ease as she makes her way back to their camp, a camp they’ve had ample time to move…but haven’t, as they’re constantly underestimating this woman’s relentless fighting spirit and thirst for revenge.

When in doubt…fire. While she stalks around their campsite, ‘Jessica’ runs straight into ‘Sparks’ and a down and dirty tussle ensues. At one point, she gets hold of the welder and manages to set the creep’s leg on fire. I figured that would be the end of ‘Sparks’ but he just manages to avoid being cooked on the spot.

Holy shit! This fucking score! Like being hit in the head! Still REALLY not digging the ‘music’. Actually mad by now.

More cool stunts. Property destruction. In the umpteenth escalation, the poachers adopt a Fuck Subtlety approach and just roar in through the front gate, menacing ‘Jessica’ while also tearing the place apart. The Beast is used to collapse entire buildings, at times knocking them down just as ‘Ringo’, who’s running across the various rooftops, jumps away from the collapsing structures just as they tumble…all in camera. More impressive action.

ANY time we get an action scene, my ears want to bleed. Did I mention that the score sucks? Oh, I did?! All right then…moving on.

You off’d the horse! You dudes are fucked! While I was fearfully awaiting the untimely demise of the poor dog, they went ahead and popped a cap in ‘Jessica’s prized horse. Her wail of anguish had an undertone of fury that spoke volumes about what was to come.

Cue the Home Alone montage. Traps are set and plans are made. Sons of bitches must pay!

-*Snap* *Crackle* *Pop* Electricity…not breakfast cereal. Scratch one.

Damn! She turned an iron into a mourning star! As all hell breaks loose, ‘Sunny’ plows after ‘Jessica’ in The Beast, tearing through her various out-buildings in hot pursuit, murder in his eyes. At one point, she grabs the cord of an iron and gets to swinging it like the medieval weapon of old, releasing it seconds before being reduced to a meat waffle under the Beast’s oversized tires and sending it straight through the Ford’s windshield to ricochet off ‘Sunny’s forehead, stopping the marauding vehicle in its tracks.

Anvil? Really?! Tucker and Dale, anyone? She gets away from ‘Sunny’ but again runs headlong into ‘Sparks’. During their rematch, ‘Sparks’, fueled by revenge, leaps at ‘Jessica’, only to clumsily miss as she jumps aside. What he DOESN’T miss is the sharpened horn of the anvil she has in her barn. It was so abrupt and unintentionally funny that I couldn’t help but think of 2010’s hilarious Tucker and Dale VS Evil. If you’ve seen the horror satire that is Tucker and Dale, you know why I found this scene funny.

Vicious head fake, good explosion. And ‘Sunny’s back, charging after ‘Jessica’ with the truck…until her smarts win out and he’s abruptly immobilized. Much like the animals they targeted, ‘Sunny’ finds himself helpless and locked in ‘Jessica’s sights. Then there’s gasoline…maniacal screaming…and *BOOM!*

The dog’s hurt!…but still alive. The credits roll as ‘Jessica’s dog, who I was certain was doomed to violently perish, limps out of the wreckage and makes his way to his equally battered mom as she does the same. Scene fades out as ‘Jessica’ hoists her limping pet into her arms and makes her way out of the destruction that was once her home / animal sanctuary. But hey…the dog lived!!

There’s a lot to like here. And some to not.

And that was Fair Game, from 1986.

I went into this one with next to rock-bottom expectations and, for the most part, was pleasantly surprised by how it was crafted and how the story played out. Right off, I can say that I was impressed with how Cassandra Delaney played ‘Jessica’, with her still managing to maintain a fighting spirit and intelligence despite the torment and indignities she endures.

Several of the action scenes were well executed, with several of the stunts making me sit up and pay attention.

I liked the gritty look and ‘feel’ of the flick, with good use made of the zoomed-in, telephoto lens aesthetic that I love so much.

The dynamic between the three villains (two of which also featured in Razorback as scumbags as well…type-cast much?) proved interesting and, strangely, reminded me of the less-than-harmonious home invaders from David Fincher’s underrated 2002 thriller Panic Room (love that movie!). The trio of shit-heads here were all unique in appearance and demeanor, and actually felt like a bit more than the bare minimum was put into their creation. There was a comic bookish element to them but upon reading a bit more, it seems that was very intentional. They were a sharp and welcome contrast to ‘Jessica’s inherent goodness and I think it helped the story.

Now if you’ve been paying attention to my scribbles, my main, unignorable gripe about this title will come as no surprise – the atrocious, soul-crushing excuse of a film score. Whoever Ashley Irwin is / was, I hope he NEVER scored another film after this one. On the rarest of occasions, there was some solid and effective ‘suspense music’, but for the most part, especially during the action scenes (of which there are good number), I desperately wanted to jam a sewing needle into my ear to stop the agony. Easily one of the most obnoxious scores I’ve heard in literally years. Just awful stuff.

All in all, I’m really glad that I checked this one out…shitty music aside. It really is a mixed bag, as quality goes, but luckily the scale swings more in favor of the GOOD than the BAD. A good number of things nicely surprised me and l was taken in by the style and presentation of what could’ve easily been nothing more than cheap and forgettable drive-in fodder (as it was more or less intended to be). Coming in at just under an hour and a half run-time, I didn’t find the story outstayed its welcome. Obviously the score did though, from the very first action scene alone…but not the movie overall.

I could certainly see myself revisiting this one, but I’d be going in prepared for the total suck that is the music.

If you have ANY interest in the Ozploitation scene (as I seem to have recently re-developed), I WOULD recommend that you check Fair Game out. For its meagre budget, it’s a nicely executed thriller / action flick that, while definitely not perfect, is far better than it could’ve been.

But damn…that fucking music…! *shakes head sadly*


 

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