Fair Game (1988): Every Word You Say…

Matty slurps up a strange spaghetti suspenser starring a snake and Sting’s wife. And no, he won’t be watching it again.

Though forgotten today, FAIR GAME bagged a few column inches back in the late ‘80s thanks to journeyman helmer Mario Orfini’s assertion that it was the first Italian movie shot in English for the American market. Interesting if not entirely true. After all, when Fair Game started shooting in Los Angeles in spring ‘87, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) director Ruggero Deodato had already brought two Americanised Italian productions to the screen, Cut and Run (1985) and Body Count (1986). Nevertheless, Orfini rounded out the stateside leg of Fair Game’s shoot by lensing in the Mojave Desert for a week before relocating to Cinecittà in Rome for two-and-a-half months’ worth of interiors.

Written by Orfini and novelist, journalist, essayist and screenwriter Lidia Ravera, Fair Game is a flawed yet fascinating experience; a curate’s egg anchored by an irresistible concept but kneecapped by overwrought dialogue and an irritating lead turn from Trudie Styler. Faintly echoing rumours circulating about her private life at the time (supposedly, the actress was estranged from her then-partner/now husband, mononymous rocker Sting — he’d ran off with model Cary Lowell), Styler submits a dreadful performance as Eve. An annoying sculptress in the process of divorcing her sinister video game designer (!) hubby, Gene, neither part nor player are amiable or strong enough to carry the thrust of this mercifully brief suspenser: Eve, trapped in her apartment, battling a deadly black mamba in real time. With little reprieve, it’s Styler vs. snake for much of Fair Game’s duration, and Eve becomes a chore to be around due to her falling victim to the most grating contrivance in single-actor-and-location films…

A character who doesn’t shut up.

The flaky artist narrates and comments on EVERYTHING.

She has a bath: “Oh that feels great.”

Tries to open a locked door: “Why won’t it open?”

Attempts to flee the snake: “Gotta keep running!”

And last but not least, a wildly emoting Styler shares Eve’s innermost thoughts re: her and Gene’s separation through pretentious monologues squawked straight into a mirror and/or video camera. Because of course. How else are we meant to know what she’s feeling, daaaaahling? 

As mean Gene, Gregg Henry is a formidable presence but, a la Eve, the role is histrionic rubbish. Still, the bastard’s wonderfully potty plan to kill his ex (he’s the one who sticks the mamba in her flat) conjures fond memories of Henry’s equally ridiculous murder plot in Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984). Essentially a two-hander, Fair Game also houses a fun appearance from future horror hero Bill Moseley (the only other cast member bar an uncredited bicycle courier). Naturally, the Rob Zombie regular is the gurning redneck that Gene buys the snake from at the film’s start.   

Tech-wise, Fair Game is fabulous. The towering electronic score by disco icon Giorgio Moroder adds punch to Orfini’s competently staged set pieces, and Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s angular, René Magritte-inspired production design is well-served by the depth and texture of Dante Spinotti’s slick photography [1]. Spinotti — the go-to DP of Michael Mann — and Styler formed a close friendship on Fair Game and vowed to work together again. The former even pledged to lens a film for the latter should she ever wish to direct; a promise Spinotti fulfilled thirty years later when he and Styler made Freak Show (2017).

Also known as ‘Mamba’, Fair Game was released in London cinemas on 25th June 1989 following a special “London Premiere” on 23rd June at the Kensington Odeon that the altruistic Styler and the film’s British distributor, Medusa, arranged as a gala event to benefit the Rainforest Foundation Fund. Seeing Fair Game would have cost you £25 while seeing the movie and attending the reception would have cost £50, profits going to the charity. The film was re-released in Germany alongside Piers Haggard’s similarly-minded Venom (1981) — a project that Moseley’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) director, Tobe Hooper, initiated — in a DVD two-pack called Snakes in a Box in December 2006, ten weeks after New Line Cinema’s short-lived pop-culture phenomenon, Snakes on a Plane (2006), landed in German theatres.

Italy ● 1988 ● Thriller ● 81mins

Trudie Styler, Gregg Henry, Bill Moseley ● Dir. Mario Orfini ● Wri. Mario Orfini, Lidia Ravera, story by Mario Orfini

[1] Another bit of De Palma overlap: Moroder composed the score and songs for Scarface (1983), and Scarfiotti served as the crime saga’s visual consultant.

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