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Hal Hinson - Style section, " 'Fear' is pretty much a cheap-thrills fix."


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Be Afraid of 'Fear'

David is a soft-spoken, seemingly innocent boy who meets the 17-year-old Nicole in a downtown Seattle club. Immediately the teenagers fall in love. Later, when Nicole introduces him to her dad and stepmom, David handily wins them over with a display of flattery.

Nevertheless, Dad gets an inkling that something is wrong with this kid, something off. The naive Nicole can't understand why her father is being so unreasonable. But the more David is around, the stranger things become. By the time Nicole figures out he's a nut, he's already hatched a full-fledged obsession with her and her family. And if he can't have them, nobody can. -- Hal Hinson Rated R


Director: James Foley
Cast: Mark Wahlberg; William Petersen; Reese Witherspoon; Amy Brenneman
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes








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'Fear': A Date With Disaster

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 12, 1996

James Foley's "Fear" is a thriller designed to scare the hide off every parent of a teenage girl in America. Starring Mark Wahlberg and William Petersen, it's a cautionary tale about casual sex with the wrong guy. It plays as if Foley-and screenwriter Christopher Crowe-were trying to remake "Cape Fear" as a dating movie.

The Max Cady figure here is David (Wahlhberg, a k a Marky Mark), a soft-spoken, seemingly innocent boy who meets the 17-year-old Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) in a downtown Seattle club. Immediately the teenagers fall in love. Later, when Nicole introduces him to her dad (Petersen) and stepmom (Amy Brenneman), David handily wins them over with a display of flattery so lavish it would have made Eddie Haskell envious.

Nevertheless, Dad gets an inkling that something is wrong with this kid, something off. Actually, Dad has been trying to deal with some issues of his own lately-such as his anxiety over his daughter's sexual maturation. Inspecting the sporty short-cut dress she's put on for school, he experiences a jolt of panic. Is she really going to wear that out of the house? And though, in general, Foley is crude in his manipulations-especially when he titillates the audience by dangling the physical charms of his young characters in our faces-he is shrewd in the way he allows this undercurrent of Oepidal tension between father and daughter to intensify the surface atmosphere of dread and suspense.

What Dad is worried about is that Nicole doesn't fully appreciate the message she is sending out to the world, and to boys in particular. And considering what follows, he had every reason to fret. An orphan who grew up in state homes and prisons, David easily overwhelms the naive Nicole, who can't understand why her father is being so unreasonable. But the more David is around, the stranger things become. By the time Nicole figures out he's a nut, he's already hatched a full-fledged obsession with her and her family. And if he can't have them, nobody can.

There are potent implications about sex and family life here, but that's not really what Foley is interested in. "Fear" is pretty much a cheap-thrills fix; the ideas, such as they are, function as window dressing. Still, cheap though these thrills may be, they are genuinely thrilling. This is especially true of Wahlberg, whose tissue-soft voice is contradicted by the violence in his eyes. He's utterly ruthless, like a teen-scene Hannibal Lecter. It's a scary performance, and a fun one too.

Actually, the picture supplies a fair number of good laughs, though not entirely on purpose. As Nicole, Witherspoon is effectively vulnerable in her scenes with David, but mostly she's used as a pretty bauble. As the father, Petersen is stolid and bland, and Brenneman makes even less of an impression in a sketchy role. Given the dangers of AIDS, teenage pregnancy, etc., some people may think that a movie that puts the fear back in sex may have its virtues. Others, however, may question whether that fear was ever gone to begin with.

Fear is rated R for violence (even to dogs), sexual material and adult situations.

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