Bridget Fonda With A Bullet
After four films in less than two years, the actress decided to go for the action in a remake of La Femme Nikita -- will it pay off?
Hilary de Vries, Los Angeles Times (14 March 1993)
Through a fog of cold medication and plain tuckered-outness that comes from making back-to-back films -- five in two years to be exact -- Bridget Fonda is confessing, "LIke when we made Singles, you know, the same thing is happening to me right now. I'm sitting here sorta dizzy and dazed, like the way I played Janet whenever she was around Cliff."
She raises her arms and stares between them as if she were sighting down a rifle. "Tunnel vision, whoooo. It's weird, like one of those shooting days I could never describe, but it's really fun to act like this."
Fonda looks about as sick as a milk-fed kitten.
"That's because I put a ton of makeup on," she says, grimacing.
Fonda's definition of a ton seems to extend to mascara on her upper lashes and a slight glaze on her lips.
"I just worked with a bunch of Buddhist lamas," she says, dropping her arms and leaning forward with the kind of sudden intimacy common to teen-age girls at camp. "It's a strange thing," she says, sounding as if she's swung her head over the side of the top bunk to confess to a sleeping stranger that she is scared of snakes and misses her boyfriend. "But I'm finding more and more, everything you don't want, you have to do that thing. The thing you're fighting against, you have to embrace it. I'm not at all psychic. I don't have those connections. I've never been in tune. I always look at my horoscope and go, 'That's not me, it's for everyone else but me.' But it's like this pattern is emerging in my life and it's kind of frightening."
This kind of soul-baring seems to demand a response even in a Hollywood deli. I reach for what is at hand, a half-eaten biscotti on the plate between us. Snapping this ad hoc communion wafer in half sends crumbs spraying. "It's a rock," she says.
Plunging on, "I was raised without any religion and I sort of had to come up with my own ideas about God and life. So when a pattern emerges it's just sort of jarring. It defies known science. I keep trying to make sense of it, but I can't. It's a weird thing..."
"It's my state of mind, and the jobs that come my way. It sounds funny to boil it down to your work, but in a strange way, your work defines you."
Early in her career, Bridget Fonda describes herself as "no Molly Ringwald." It was, at the time, her explanation for all the small, independent films she was making. Shag, Strapless, Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound.
"It wasn't like my choice," she says, annotating her resume. "I auditioned for everything but I was losing out to people like Kelly Preston. And the parts I wanted to go up for nobody saw me as. They kept wanting me to play the popular girl, the girl the guy has a crush on. And I just didn't feel that way."
Fonda, if it needs to be mentioned, possesses the kind of fine-boned, coltish looks of a young Americanized Audrey Hepburn. At 29, and about to star in her 13th film -- Point of No Return, John Badham's remake of Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita -- she seems much younger than her years and her tax returns might suggest. Dressed simply in a gray T-shirt and no jewelry, Fonda's slenderness is offset by gawkishness, her milky skin dappled by freckles, her pale hair tumbling into her eyes.
"I've been made to look that way -- the teen-queen situation," she says, tucking an errant lock behind her ear. "But the reality is that I've got kind of a funny face. It was strange for me to play the cheerleader type, because when I was in high school I felt like I was always on the outside."
For a while, Fonda played outsiders who looked like cheerleaders. She made her film debut in 1987 as a suicide victim with a penchant for nudity in Aria. She played call-girl Mandy Rice-Davies in Scandal, Blair Brown's tarty younger sister in Strapless, and a smart-mouthed journalist who deftly bedded Andy Garcia's Vinnie Mancini in The Godfather, Part III. Between films, she moaned to journalists that she didn't have enough clout to refuse nude scenes.
Then Cameron Crowe, director of Say Anything, cast Fonda in Singles, his good-natured ode to twentysomethings. He had written the role of Janet, the sweetly dim waitress who dogs Matt Dillion, specifically for Fonda. "I don't see you as a sexpot," Crowe told the slightly flummoxed actress. "I see you as the soul of the movie."
When Fonda showed up that same year playing Allie, another why-bad-things-happen-to-good-people victim in Single White Female, it seemed as if the actress had jettisoned her bad-girl image. Although Barbet Schroeder's psychological thriller, which co-starred Jennifer Jason-Leigh, as not the summer blockbuster Columbia Pictures had hoped for, it was Fonda's first starring role in a major studio film (and her first to carry a $1 million salary) and more than one critic agreed with Jay Carr when he wrote in his review in the Boston Globe, "We never stop looking at the two women, never stop wanting to." As Schroeder summed up Hollywood's reaction: "Many, many people (in the industry) are in love with Bridget."
If that infatuation was relatively late in coming, it was not, however, unexpected. After all, as the most visible scion of Henry Fonda -- Peter's daughter and Jane's niece -- Fonda was already a member of Hollywood royalty. Although her parents divorced when she was 8, she grew up amid relative privilege, living with her mother, Susan Brewer, and her brother Justin in Coldwater Canyon, attending the exclusive Westlake School for Girls, spending afternoons with her grandfather watching him paint. But unlike many progeny of the famous, Fonda seems to wear her pedigree with ease. "I always knew my dad was famous, but I lived with my mom," she says succinctly.
Now, with Point of No Return, (which opens Friday), Fonda seems ready to stake her claim. It is her biggest role to date and there are pitfalls aplenty. Not only does Fonda carry the film (risky), but it is a remake of a popular foreign film (riskier) and a rare action film that stars a woman (really risky). Warner executives are waiting to see if a kick-boxing, pistol-toting Fonda can go where few women, besides Sigourney Weaver (the Alien series), have gone.
But sitting in a deli just a few days before the film's opening, Fonda seems only vaguely concerned with such career issues. "I don't know, I've worked a lot, done a lot," she says uncertainly. "But you never really think that way, about carrying a film. You just can't think about it or you're thinking about the wrong things."
The right things include all the directors she's managed to work with. She just finished filming Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha, which will be released this winter (Fonda plays the mother of a 9-year-old American boy who thinks he is Buddha), and she is a few weeks away from heading to Toronto to film Camilla, an inter-generational drama co-starring Jessica Tandy and directed by Depa Mehta. Next month, Fonda can be seen in the low-budget independent film Bodies, Rest & Motion, directed by Mike Steinberg and co-starring the actress's real-life boyfriend, Eric Stoltz. She is, admittedly, nervous when she is without a job.
"This has been the year," says Fonda, diagramming a circle on the coffee-shop table with her fingers. "Cameron to Barbet to John to Mike Steinberg to Bernardo."
She looks up and smiles politely as if she had just handed in all her homework and was hoping for a gold star. "It's a nice mix, don't you think?"
When she first heard there was to be an American version of La Femme Nikita, Fonda thought, "Why are they bothering?" She had seen Luc Besson's 1990 suspense thriller on video ("I think I was working when it came out") and couldn't imagine anyone improving on Besson's direction of Anne Parillaud's performance as the loopily anarchistic Nikita. "Anne really has the stuff," Fonda says, and besides, "I hate remakes."
Director John Badham was not the only one who, unlike Fonda, saw a massive marketing opportunity in reworking the French hit for American audiences. Besson's darkly comic political tale had a mildly feminist twist -- a young drug-addicted woman convicted of murder is forced to become a professional government-sponsored assassin -- and Badham recognized "a great story" when he saw one. But the director also knew "that 99% of Americans would not see this film because we refuse to go to movies with subtitles." Eager to direct a slick, exotic thriller -- Badham's last film, The Hard Way, had under-performed at the box office -- he phoned around to see who, if anyone, had acquired the film's rights. He got as far as Warner Bros.
Art Linson, who had had similar feelings to Badham's after seeing the movie in Seattle where he was producing Singles for Warner Bros., had already been assigned as producer. When Besson turned down the offer to direct his own remake, Badham was given the nod.
Although Linson was aware that the track record for female action pictures was limited -- "There was one horrible one (V.I. Warshawski starring Kathleen Turner)," Linson says -- the producer was not overly concerned about a film starring what he calls "a girl with a gun. People underestimate that if you make it good, it transcends the genre," he says. "We could have exploited it by casting one of those girls from the cover of Sports Illustrated, but we wanted to treat this like a good French play we were adapting. We saw this as a movie about redemption."
Badham too was interested in taking the high road, albeit with some modifications. "Luc had created one of the most dynamic women we've seen," the director says. "I'm sure you noticed the parallels to Pygmalion. Well, they are quite strong. But we wanted to improve the focus on the woman in the film's last third. This is the story of a woman who everyone wants to be someone else -- a drug addict, an assassin, a nice person at home -- and she has to devise a way to be on her own."
Using a script by Bob Getchell, who had won Oscar nominations with his first two films, Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Hal Ashby's Bound for Glory, Badham began a casting search. Although he easily filled key roles with Gabriel Byrne, Anne Bancroft and Harvey Keitel, Badham found casting Maggie (code name Nina) difficult. He needed an actress -- "not below 17 and not much older than her early 20s" -- who could sustain the audience's sympathies while blowing away innocent people with an Olympian target pistol.
Fonda had just finished shooting Single White Female when she was invited to read for the role that "everyone under the age of 30 had read for," Badham says. Although Linson was familiar with Fonda's work in Singles, nothing in the actress's repertoire suggested she could carry a film of this size. Even Fonda had her doubts.
"I was scared," she said. "Anne had done such a complete job and I am the most unphysical person I know. I'm not athletic and I have a hard time tapping into my anger. But it was such a great character and women never really get to play those kind of women and so the masochist in me said, 'Yes, go into the fire.'"
It wasn't until Schroeder showed Badham and Linson footage of Fonda in Single White Female as he was editing it that she was given Point of No Return.
To convincingly portray a drug-addict turned professional hit-woman, Fonda spent nearly a month training before the film's shoot last year. She lost weight and worked with a professional kick boxer -- "we hiked up to the Hollywood sign and I worked out on the (punching) bag" -- and a stunt coordinator who taught Fonda to fire a gun. For the first third of the film, she also had to learn to wear a disfiguring set of prosthetic teeth. "They were actually very ingeniously made, but I couldn't chew," says Fonda, who adds that during one dinner sequence "I spent most of the time thinking about how I was going to spit the food back out because I couldn't swallow."
Similar to the rest of the cast and crew who had been urged by Badham to avoid seeing Besson's film, Fonda did not reviewLa Femme Nikita, but worked instead with her personal acting coach, Harold Guskin, "because I didn't want to mimic Anne, because her performance was like, no way." She concentrated on creating a sensation of physical pain to play the early drug-addicted scenes, but learning to portray a professional killer, Fonda concedes, was difficult.
Surprisingly, Fonda found the film's earlier, gritty sequences to be her favorite "because I was able to be so unattractive." And while Badham agreed with her, theirs was not the only opinion.
"I talked to people who were so sure those scenes would never make it in (the final cut), because they said, 'You'll never gain sympathy after that,'" Fonda says.
While Fonda says that "I'm glad when guys take their dates to see an action picture they'll be seeing one with a woman in it," she expresses reservations about the film's glossy, titillating attitudes toward women. During the film's shoot, Fonda, who has a reputation as a director's dream actor, grew exasperated with some of the skimpy outfits she was required to wear. "Excuse me, but hot pants and thigh boots?" Frequently she disagreed with Badham over the staging of several scenes. "It would be like I would come back from lunch and they would go, 'Oh, we blocked the scene while you were out.' That was a famous one."
A Venice boardwalk in which Fodna wears a tailored business suit amid a swirl of bikini-clad roller skaters she found particularly onerous.
"'Excuse me, but she's an extra in a G-string,'" says Fonda, re-enacting her objections. "'Does she need her own cue?' But that's what they wanted to do, give the projectionist a thrill. It was a joke."
Is the movie the one she thought she was making? Fonda sighs. "No, it never is," she says, slumping in her chair. "Particularly if you have expectations or plans or dreams. It always changes from when I read a script, because in my head I make the movie and when you're acting it, you only have control over one element: yourself."
....Fonda has finished her tea and wandered out to the parking lot, but she seems intent on finishing the long confessional narrative she began hours ago.
"I have this fear that I'm going to be lax in my struggle to better myself....I'm sort of trying to be happy with my career. I think I should give myself a break, but I've got this bug that rides me. You know, you should be doing better. So every time I work, I'm frustrated with my inability to catch up to my mental picture."
Fonda pulls her parka around her, her fingers brushing the tiny laminated map of Tibet she has pinned to her jacket. She looks down and smiles at this remembrance of the Buddhist lamas. "The biggest thing is that I can't be afraid to fail," she says almost to herself, "because it's the exact thing I need to do."
Point: Tale of A Hit Woman Misses
Hal Hinson, The Washington Post (19 March 1993)
Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda, is an American remake of a French thriller that itself seemed a sort of remake of a generic American caper film. The original was Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita, and it told the story of a drugged-out street waif...who kills a policeman during a raid on a pharmacy and is sentenced to die. As a last chance, she is offered -- if that is the word -- a new identity and a new lease on life by the government as an assassin. If she accepts, she will be trained in weapons, languages, computers, the martial arts and the arts of femininity, and released into the world to do murder in the service of freedom.
If she refuses she'd dead.
It would be fashionable to claim that this American version is a debasement of the original, but in this case the original wasn't so original in the first place. And the slick, Hollywood repaint that director John Badham gives it is actually an improvement, even if a heartless one. The Robert Getchell/Alexandra Seros script tries to supply a layer of psychological depth by playing on the Svengali scenario between this wild child and her government controller (played with suave insouciance by Gabriel Byrne). When Anne Bancroft instructs this barely socialized street rat in the necessary rules of elegant society, there's a bit of the old Miracle Worker inserted as well.
But shallow is shallow, no matter how well-dressed up it is. And even with a brisk, economical performance from Fonda, that's what Point of No Return is, an ugly duckling in a swanky dress.
Point Fails to Make One
Remake of La Femme Nikita is more adept at providing an aura of excitement than actually delivering the goods.
Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times (19 March 1993)
It's a dirty job making movies like Point of No Return, but somebody's got to do it. Somebody's got to make the middling commercial piffle that the Hollywood system has to produce or die. Not good enough to be remembered past next week, not bad enough to get worked up about, Point is a factory product pure and simple, something to throw onto the screen until the next something comes along.
With a stark (if not exactly original) title and a striking advertising image of star Bridget Fonda looking surly and seductive in a backless cocktail dress with a monster weapon in her hand, Point is more adept at providing the aura of excitement than actually delivering the goods.
There's an irony in that failure, however, for Point is an almost scene-by-scene remake of the energetic and very popular French action film, La Femme Nikita. With its story of how a hot-tempered wharf rat gets turned into a polished and feminine assassin, Nikita just about begged to be remade into a brassy Hollywood production.
And, with the gamin-like Fonda substituting for French actress Anne Parillaud and actionmeister John Badham (Blue Thunder, The Hard Way) taking the reins from Luc Besson, a polished commercial success seemed almost assured.
Unfortunately, Point of No Return not only is a copy, it has the heft and feel of one. Though the first film was as silly as this one, it had an urgency in its pacing and a sense of belief in its cockeyed story that has not survived in the remake.
The tale (rated R for strong violence, language and sexuality) begins in our nation's capital, where a band of drugged-out crazies attacks a local drug store. "I need it so bad," a wasted Maggie (Fonda) mumbles, presumably referring to a fix, not a decent script. A noisy shootout with the police soon intervenes, and before you can say "murder one," Maggie is on trial for her life.
But the government, ever on the lookout for potentially useful citizens, has other plans, and one morning Maggie wakes up in a bare cell on a bed that looks like an Italian design team made it from a leftover Erector set.
In walks no-last-name Bob (Gabriel Byrne), a shadowy operative with the air of a defrocked priest, who gives Maggie a "do something to help your country" pep talk and then offers her what amounts to a scholarship to a federal charm school for assassins.
We'll fix your teeth, we'll clear up your complexion, we'll teach you a whole range of skills, from computers to (courtesy of Anne Bancroft's Amanda) eating "without fake middle-class delicacy." In return for the makeover of your dreams, all you have to do is put your killer instinct at the service of Uncle Sam.
None of this turns out to be as easy as Bob makes it sound, but Maggie does learn to dress as demurely as an Avon lady and is relocated to a beach apartment in Venice that appears to be just around the corner from the place D-FENS was headed toward in Falling Down.
Though Maggie doesn't have any crazed defense workers to deal with, she does have to contend with the love-struck attentions of moony photographer J.P. (Dermot Mulroney) as well as the odd demands of her work, which include a run-in with an all-business type known as Victor the Cleaner and played with low-key humor by the all-business Harvey Keitel.
As written by Robert Getchell and Alexandra Seros, Maggie's adventures have a pro forma feeling, as if all anyone cared about was making sure there was enough of a balance between mushy romantic montage and glass-shattering action to make this the perfect date-night movie for a reader of Harlequin romances who has a crush on a card-carrying gun nut.
Director Badham, who must have snoozed through many of the dramatic scenes, so indifferent are the line readings, does try to rouse himself for those action sequences, and the sight of Fonda blowing people away in a variety of elegant designer creations is certainly arresting.
But though Fonda probably had fun in this tough-talking, straight-shooting role, she lacks the diamond hardness Parillaud brought to Nikita. She is also much too good an actress to have to spend so much of her time, as she did in Single White Female, running around in her underwear. If Point of No Return does turn out to be a commercial success, perhaps Fonda will get enough clout to get a change of clothes. She deserves it.
As a scruffy punkette who gets turned into a lethal weapon, Bridget Fonda gives the flashy but empty Point of No Return its feminist firepower.
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly (2 April 1993)
The enjoyably preposterous POINT OF NO RETURN (R) may be the first
commercial American movie in which a female action hero gets to blow
people away the same way male action heroes do: for the meaningless
kinetic thrill of it all. I suppose we should consider this some sort
of breakthrough. Excuse me, though, if I can't work up much
enthusiasm for it. As an example of equal opportunity, the kamikaze
lady gunslinger-and you can bet we're going to be seeing many more of
them-has emerged from a decadent junk-movie culture that reduces men
and women to dashing ciphers leaping mightily through plate glass.
Nevertheless, if Point of No Return is trash, it's slick,
Directed by John Badham in his heavy-duty action
mode (Bird on a Wire, The Hard Way), the movie is about a scrungy
punk criminal, Maggie (Bridget Fonda), who is reborn as a sleek
government assassin. Who does she work for? The CIA -- or at least a
guy in a black suit who seems to be in the CIA. Who are the people
she's asked to kill? Beats me. And what, exactly, are the
consequences of her actions? I have absolutely no idea. Like La Femme
Nikita, the 1991 French movie on which it's based, Point of No
Return is an exercise in violent punk chic, a series of empty
nihilist gestures posing as a character study. The movie is like an
outline for a thriller that was never entirely filled in. Still, it
has flash and drive, if only because, like the heroine, we never
quite know what's coming next.
When we first meet Maggie she's a desperate rag-doll hooligan, her
skin turned yellow from heroin withdrawal. At the end of a botched
robbery, she sticks her gun into the neck of a police officer and
slowly, deliberately squeezes the trigger. It doesn't take long to
see what we're dealing with: a true untamed heart. Maggie is arrested
for murder, convicted, and sentenced to be executed.
The next thing she knows, she's sitting in a white-walled sci-fi
bedroom. Enter Bob (Gabriel Byrne), the guy in black, who speaks in
the coded minimalist tones of a bureaucrat privy to information you
don't want to know. Bob has glimpsed Maggie's ruthless nature, and
he likes what he sees. He offers a reprieve: Her sentence will be
lifted if she joins his special training program.
It's exhilarating, at first, to watch Bridget Fonda let loose her
aggression; as the amoral Maggie, she lashes out at the world with
talons bared. Soon, though, this animalistic rebel is being primped
and civilized. Bob's training bunker resembles nothing so much as a
ritzy health club (this makes it doubly surprising that Fonda didn't
pump up for the role), and Maggie is given etiquette lessons by an
unctuous Anne Bancroft, who drops chichi howlers like "You need to
find your feminine strength -a bit of moon to go with the sun!"
Dolled up in a bare-shoulder evening dress, Maggie, now strawberry
blond and beautiful, goes out with Bob to a restaurant in Washington,
D.C. Moments after they've been seated, he gives her a present-it's a
box with a really big gun inside-and informs her that she has two
minutes to assassinate the VIP who's dining on the balcony above. She
does, in a scene as explosively farfetched as anything in a Lethal
Weapon movie. Having passed this test, Maggie is given a new identity
and sent to live in Venice, Calif., where she sets up house in a
scruffy boardwalk apartment. She meets a photographer named J.P.
(Dermot Mulroney, who's like Matthew Modine's hangdog brother) and
attempts to carry on a "normal" life. Every so often, though, the
phone rings, usually with Bob's voice on the other end: Go to this
location, a weapon is waiting for you, do your stuff.
There's a strategy, I suppose, to withholding from the audience
any real detail about Maggie's jobs: We're seeing everything from her
restricted, assassin's-eye view. Yet the effect is rather like that
of a James Bond movie without a plot or a villain-or a sense of
humor. Point of No Return needs a more extravagant awareness of its
own absurdity. The one element in the movie that has this quality is
Harvey Keitel's funny, robotic performance as a nerdish "cleaner"
whose job it is to mop up botched assassinations.
Still, Badham at least tries to give the material an emotional
center. And Fonda is far more personable-and vulnerable-than the
mannequinesque Anne Parillaud was in Nikita. You root for her, even
if it feels like sympathy in a vacuum. In the best scene, Maggie is
on vacation in New Orleans when she's called for a job. Stumbling
into her hotel bathroom, she finds her biggest gun yet-you wonder how
the skinny Fonda can even lift it-and aims it out the window, as
J.P. proposes to her from the other side of the door. Is it any
wonder that Maggie wants out? She can still face the killing, but she
has lost her freedom, her surly defiance. The message might apply to
Bridget Fonda, as well. Much as she may jump at the chance to blow
people away, an actress can't really consider herself liberated in a
movie like this one.
Roger Ebert's Review
Point of No Return is a Pygmalion for our angry age. In both stories, an older teacher picks a girl out of the gutter and teaches her new skills. Professor Higgins taught Eliza to act like a lady, and now Bob teaches Maggie to be a lady and a cold-blooded assassin. Both women get a lot of lessons on how to hold their forks.
The movie stars Bridget Fonda as Maggie, a girl of the streets, who is high on drugs when she kills a cop during a drugstore robbery that goes wrong. She is sentenced to death, and to keep the story rolling along, the movie shows the sentence being carried out almost immediately (not likely in California.)
But, in fact, she is not killed; the execution is a cover, and she awakens inside a secret government school for killers, where Bob (Gabriel Byrne) tells her she has two choices: Go along with the program, or end up underneath the tombstone that already carries her name. Maggie is put through a quick course in weapons, explosives, martial arts and good manners. The last is taught by Anne Bancroft, as an older woman who gives her a beauty makeover. She comes to the center looking like a wolf girl; she leaves as a well-groomed beauty.
Bob gives her a new identity and sends her to live in Venice, Calif., where she soon falls in love with the photographer who lives downstairs (Dermot Mulroney). But soon she is assigned to murder a man in a restaurant, and eventually it becomes clear that Bob's bosses consider her expendable. Bob, of course, has fallen quietly in love with her, a feeling that business keeps him from acting on.
If this story sounds familiar, you have seem La Femme Nikita, a 1991 French thriller by Luc Besson, which was bought by Warner Bros. to be remade into this American version by John Badham (War Games, Stakeout). The notion of pouring European films into Hollywood molds didn't work out recently with The Vanishing, but Point of No Return is actually a fairly effective and faithful adaptation, and Bridget Fonda manages the wild identity-swings of her role with intensity and conviction, although not the same almost poetic sadness that Anne Parillaud brough to the original movie.
If I didn't feel the same degree of involvement with Point of No Return that I did with La Femme Nikita, it may be because the two movies are so similar in plot, look and feel. I had deja vu all through the movie. There are a few changes, mostly not for the better. By making the heroine's boyfriend a photographer this time, instead of a check-out clerk, the movie loses the poignancy of their relationship; Nikita liked her clerk precisely because he was completely lacking in aggression.
The movie does, at least, end on the correct note of suitably bleak melancholia. Hollywood sometimes feels it necessary to squeeze all films into happy endings (in the case of a violent thriller, that means the right people get killed). That would be all wrong with this story of a woman coming to grips with her violent nature.
(Ebert rated this film ***)