Fear

on April 12, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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"Save some hot water for your dad," says new stepmom Laura Walker ("Heat's Amy Brenneman) to her showering stepdaughter Nicole ("S.F.W.'s" Reese Witherspoon) as "Fear" opens. By film's end, Nicole has provided plenty of hot water for her father Steve ("Hard Promises'" William Petersen), thanks to her romantic involvement with a young man, David McCall ("The Basketball Diaries'" Mark Wahlberg). Still in high school, the sweet 16-year-old Nicole meets the older David at a rave, and to all appearances David--warm and considerate--seems very unlike his rough-crowd friends to whom Nicole's bad-girl friend Margo ("Double Dragon's" Alyssa Milano) is attracted. His appearances, though, prove deceiving; orphaned young, David has bounced from home to home and is now living loose in the world, committing crimes and all too ready to clear everything--and everyone--from his path to Nicole. When first Nicole's father and then Nicole herself become convinced of his evil nature, shutting him off, all hell breaks loose.
   A thriller that is less electrifying than just queasy-making, "Fear" has two pluses in its corner. One is yet another tremendous score by Carter Burwell. In the Coen brothers' recent "Fargo," Burwell blended a Scandinavian folk tune with film noir riffs; here, he combines chiller music with warpath beats, and their synergy melodiously heightens the narrative tension. The other plus: fine performances all round<197>finer than they need to be for their one-note characters. Wahlberg, known as Marky Mark in his hip-hop (and underwear ad) days, exudes diabolism onscreen; Witherspoon is appropriately doe-like as the sexual neophyte; Petersen and Brenneman (especially underchallenged here) are convincingly concerned; but the real surprise is Milano, whose substantial stage work since her young-daughter days on the TV sitcom "Who's the Boss" has matured her into a first-rate actress. (Her character's comment while admiring a magazine featuring babe centerfolds--"it's power," she says of the women--provide an in-joke for those familiar with her nude layout in Bikini magazine a couple years back.)
   Also underchallenged is director Foley, whose high-testosterone helming of the David Mamet adaptation "Glengarry Glen Ross" helped make that Al Pacino starrer a 1992 highlight. As with Foley's recent "Two Bits," the material simply isn't there. Christopher Crowe, once a story editor for TV's "Baretta" who's since graduated to feature scripting status ("The Last of the Mohicans," "Whispers in the Dark"), here predictably provides narrative elements--family discord, teen rebellion, young love--as if he were painting by numbers. When an audience knows what's going to happen, there are no thrills, and the resulting thriller seems only mean-spiritedly mechanical. This is an odd genre for producer Grazer, who's been behind the more uplifting likes of "Apollo 13," "Parenthood" and "Splash," and as such it's one of the least successful titles of his Imagine Entertainment canon. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon and William Petersen. Directed by James Foley. Written by Christopher Crowe. Produced by Brian Grazer and Ric Kidney. A Universal release. Thriller. Rated R for strong graphic violence and terror, sexuality, language, and drug use. Running time: 97 min
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