16th Dec2021

‘Fortress’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Bruce Willis, Chad Michael Murray, Jesse Metcalfe, Shannen Doherty, Ser’Darius Blain, Kelly Greyson, Sean Kanan, Natalie Burn, Trae Ireland, Simon Phillips, Michael Sirow, Katalina Viteri | Written by Alan Horsnail | Directed by James Cullen Bressack

If you’re a long-time reader of Nerdly you’ll know we’re huge fans of director James Cullen Bressack, so much so that back in 2015 we [unsuccessfully] tried to get his controversial film Hate Crime released on VOD in the UK – I say unsuccessfully as it was banned by the BBFC and we eventually ended up releasing his follow-up To Jennifer instead. Since then Bressack has ventured away from the horror genre, mixing things up with action movies starring actors like Steven Seagal and Bruce Willis.

Speaking of Willis, Fortress sees the actor back working with Bressack (after Survive the Game) as well as two of his co-stars from his previous movies, actors Chad Michael Murray from Survive the Game and Jesse Metcalfe from Hard Kill. The film sees Willis star as Robert, a retired CIA agent living at a secret resort in the woods. One day, his estranged son Paul (Metcalfe), drives to the camp for a visit — but he’s followed by Robert’s old nemesis, Balzary (Murray). As the site is besieged by Balzary’s attack squad, father and son retreat to a high-tech bunker with its steel walls and advanced weapons in the hope of surviving Balzary’s bloodthirsty attack.

Guess what? We’re in familiar territory with Fortress, which plays out its Assault on Precinct 13-esque story in a location that feels very much like a modern take on the village from 60s classic TV show The Prisoner. Only Willis isn’t a prisoner of this retirement village, he’s there by choice, his CIA career obviously putting him in the line of fire of those he put away etc. As this is a “retirement” village for former spies we get a crotchety old man version of Willis’ trademark snark, though he still manages to bust out the old John McLane attitude when the time comes. And he needs to, as the security in the titular Fortress is pretty weak – a chain link fence? Really? And security who watch everything going on and still don’t signal for backup or raise the alarm!

Unlike a lot of Willis’ recent efforts, Fortress actually features the star a lot more than his typical cameo role. It’s not quite a full-time role for Willis, sitting somewhere between that and an extended cameo but its more than many Willis-watchers will have come to expect from the actor these days. Speaking of cameos, the top-billed Chad Michael Murray only turns up at the halfway point of the film, as does Shannen Doherty. Instead most of the film is left up to Michael Sirow, as Sergeant Ken Blain, the real hero of the film – who stalks the intruders like a badass ninja-like soldier; and Ser’Darius Blain (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and one of Balzary’s mercenaries – for a lot of the time the film following each man as he tries to take out members of the others while everyone else looks on from the “safe” confines of the titular Fortress.

There’s a whole sub-plot regarding Paul’s business in crypto-currency and his life being led entirely online which recalls the cyber plotting of Willis’ Live Free or Die Hard, as does this films villain looking to get back his missing money, $600 million in total, the loss of which he blames on Willis’s CIA agent AND his handler, Doherty’s General Dobbs – who now runs this “retirement village”. At first it looks like that particular plot point, Paul’s business, is just an excuse to get a) Paul to the village; and b) to allow him to use his tech-savvy to keep him and his father alive. But… it turns out the entire crypto theme is actually crucial to Fortress‘ story and, possibly, the rest of the series.

Oh, did I mention Fortress is part of a franchise? Yes, Fortress is apparently the first in a trilogy of films – the second having already been shot back to back with this one. Which means things are left open-ended to continue this story into the next chapter which, I’m guessing (and hoping), will continue the mix of action and techno-thriller storytelling we’re given here. And, after seeing Fortress, I’m honestly all in on the rest of the series – I want to see what comes next for the father and son duo… and anyone else who may, or may not, still be alive at the end of this one!

***½  3.5/5

Fortress arrives in select US cinemas and on digital platforms on December 17th, followed by a Blu-ray and DVD release on December 21st.

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