Critic Tom Shales says "Fear," a thriller starring Mark
Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon and William Peterson, is a
well-directed, well-acted film that provides audiences with
a fine movie-going experience.
ALEX CHADWICK, Host: President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt said, `The only thing we have to fear is fear
itself.' Critic Tom Shales says audiences will have plenty
to fear from the new movie, Fear.
TOM SHALES, Commentator: It's surprising that the
thriller Fear doesn' t have the word `fatal' in the title, like
maybe Fatal Fear or even A Fatal Glass of Fear. Ever since
Fatal Attraction scared the bejeebers out of philandering
hubbies, producers have tried to concoct a movie that
pushed similar buttons in the audience. Another thriller
that begat a thousand imitators was The Hand That Rocks
the Cradle, a what- if kind of horror story. What if you
hired a nanny who was a homcidal m maniac? The
variations on this reached perhaps their silliest point with
an exploitation picture called The Paperboy. That's right -
what if your paperboy, or paper person, was a homicidal
maniac? The movie Fear seems to tap into both of these
mentalities, but it isn' t a cheap or glib little thriller. It's
fairly potent and effective, and nicely directed by James
Foley. The what-if this time? What if your teenage
daughter's first serious boyfriend turned out to be, yes, a
homicidal maniac? The maniac du jour is played by Mark
`Marky Mark' Wahlberg, former rapper and real-life bad
boy. He may be a bad boy, but he's not a bad actor, as
he's already proved in Basketball Diaries and other films.
The object of his conflicted affection is named Nicole, and
played by Reese Witherspoon, graduating both from the
TV screen to the movie screen and from pre-pubescent
roles to, well, the obvious. Reese Witherspoon apparently
will be as enchanting a young lady as she was a little girl.
She's a heart-melter, but one with backbone and
The film is set in the extremely photogenic city of Seattle.
Daddy's little girl Nicole spots Marky Mark at a party and
more to the point, he spots her. He seems at first the
perfect specimen - gentle, soft-spoken, thoughtful, and
hunkier than all 12 months of a Playgirl calendar. But
daddy smells a rat almost from the beginning. The part of
the father is played by William Peterson. And to think that
only yesterday, Peterson was playing mavericky young
leading men himself. He's supposed to be an architect
living with his second wife, Nicole' s stepmom, in a
gorgeous fortress of a house he designed himself. The
fact that it's a fortress will, of course, come in handy.
1st WOMAN: [from film clip from `Fear'] No! You don't
know what' s out there. Here. Security will come.
WILLIAM PETERSON: [from film clip from `Fear'] There's
1st WOMAN: Well, let's go get the signal. Larry will come.
WILLIAM PETERSON: No, it's disconnected. The system
works through the phone lines.
1st WOMAN: It doesn't matter. No one is getting in here,
Steven. You designed it, remember? Reinforced doors, no
entry without the code.
REESE WITHERSPOON: [from film clip from `Fear'] Dad,
David's got the code.
TOM SHALES: Some things about the movie are grimly
predictable. When we see daddy's little boy playing with a
loving German shepherd, we pretty much know the dog
will meet a fate similar to that of the rabbit in Fatal
Attraction. The finale of the film brings to mind not Fatal
Attraction or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, but rather
Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs. It seems that the twisted
young man has several equally twisted dope-dealing
friends and they lay siege to the designer house for a
harrowing finale. This should have been more of a
virtuoso piece for Foley, the director, but he tends to pull
back and use some inappropriate restraint. He was
probably afraid the movie would go way over the top and
that the menace would be so demonized it would seem
supernatural, and he may be right. But the movie needs
more of a shocker climax than it has. Foley's best
sequence comes much earlier, when Marky Mark has yet
to show his dark, true colors, and he's still winsomely
romancing Witherspoon. Their first sexual encounter
occurs on a rollercoaster, and the segment is beautifully
shot and edited into an erotic reverie that's quite affecting.
Witherspoon and Wahlberg are an electric combination.
It's almost too bad this isn't just a weird love story instead
of an all-out thriller. There are other good things about the
movie, but Amy Brenneman is not one of them. She plays
the stepmom with an icky gooeyness. What the script by
Christopher Crowe does have is a few twists and turns
that are not entirely expected, and it has undercurrents
and nuances, too. The marauding suitor sees the father
as competing with him for the girl's affections and
loyalties, and he's right. He expresses this in vulgar,
gutter-level terms, during a confrontation with the father,
and Peterson lets the audience know he feels not just
revulsion, but a certain guilt here, too.
WILLIAM PETERSON: [from film clip] David, I don't want
to beat around the bush. I came to tell you that you're
going to stop seeing Nicole. Now, either you're as smart
as you think you are and you'll just go away, or else
you're going to make things a lot harder on yourself than
they have to be.
MARK WAHLBERG: [from film clip] You know, Steve,
you're really not a faggot.
WILLIAM PETERSON: What?
MARK WAHLBERG: I'm serious. You seem like a pretty
solid guy. You should lighten up on yourself.
WILLIAM PETERSON: We're not talking about me, we're
MARK WAHLBERG: Yes we are, because that's what this
whole thing is about, Steve - your inadequacies, your
WILLIAM PETERSON: You just wait a minute.
MARK WAHLBERG: Now listen to me, because I'm hip to
your problems, all of them. I know you abandoned Nicole
when she needed you most, because I licked her sweet
tears. I know about things coming apart at work. I also
know you ain't keeping up, so to speak, your end of the
bargain with the missus. Well relax, Steve. We're friends.
We're practically family.
TOM SHALES: There are other nuances, but, `So what?'
you say, `Nobody ever left the theater humming a
nuance.' Well, no, probably not, but at least the
filmmakers, the fear-makers, that is, went to more trouble
than they had to, and invested what could have been a
routine thriller with a certain intelligence and some sense
of style. Most scary movies today can be shaken off by
the time you reach the exit of the movie theater; Fear
stays with you, at least 'till you get the parking lot.