Fever (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Marcia Gay Harden, who is three years short of 50 as I write this, has come to be a respected and awarded actress (two Oscar nominations, one win) by playing a certain familiar type of character. If you are a guy you know this character very well. She's the sincere, intelligent, lonely woman that you meet at a party and can't get rid of because she's had a second glass of Chablis and can't distinguish between genuine interest and simple civility. She occupies you with the usual boilerplate comments about global warming, corporate irresponsibility, and her fear of growing old, and she just keeps nattering on and on, although you mutter only an occasional laconic response. She's attractive enough, probably used to be a looker, but you are a guy after all, so while you feign interest in her, you are actually thinking about breaking free and hitting on the short-bus chick who looks like Anna Kournikova. Sound familiar? The world is full of those women. I know at least four women who would be played by Marcia Gay Harden, in the unlikely event they would do anything or know anybody interesting enough to attract a screenwriter's interest.

Well, believe it or not, there was actually a time when you would have been thinking of breaking free from some other sincere woman to hit on Marcia Gay Harden. She caught the eye of the film world in 1990 with her sultry performance in a Coen Brothers film, Miller's Crossing, and proceeded to get cast in some sexy leading parts for a couple of years. She was even cast as Ava Gardner in a TV movie about Sinatra!

This period virtually drove her once-promising film career into total obscurity. The problem wasn't that she lacked the looks or talent to handle the roles, but that she never got to strut her stuff in a decent movie. If you look at the ranked IMDb list of her top ten films, you'll see that none of them were made in the five or six years after Miller's Crossing.

  1. (8.00) - Mystic River (2003)
  2. (7.90) - Miller's Crossing (1990)
  3. (7.09) - Pollock (2000)
  4. (6.88) - The Daytrippers (1996)
  5. (6.60) - Meet Joe Black (1998)
  6. (6.59) - The Spitfire Grill (1996)
  7. (6.57) - Casa de los babys (2003)
  8. (6.39) - P.S. (2004)
  9. (6.37) - Gaudi Afternoon (2001)
  10. (6.30) - Space Cowboys (2000)

She spent a substantial portion of that period establishing credibility as a stage actress. She was nominated for a Tony for her performance in "Angels in America," playing the character that Mary-Louise Parker portrayed in the cable series. When Harden did make movies, however, they seemed to be mediocre ones. She would not really get her movie career going again until she re-emerged as a character actress.

Fever is one of the mediocre films she made in that sexy period.

It's a thriller and the premise is gimmicky. Armand Assante plays a paroled convict who wants to go straight. He returns to his ex-girlfriend (Harden) only to find that she is living with a sweet mild-mannered lawyer (Sam Neill). "Not very thrilling or gimmicky," you say? Does it sound like it belongs on the Oxygen Network? Be patient. I'm getting to the gimmicky conflict. A bunch of baddies from the con's past want him to use his talents to commit some crimes for them, so they kidnap the girlfriend as leverage. The con thus has to commit the crimes in order to save her life, a task made far more complicated by the fact that the wimpy lawyer insists on tagging along.

Fever isn't a bad watch for a non-theatrical actioner/thriller. There are some guilty pleasures. Late in the film, for example, there is a scene in which a psycho kidnapper cuts off Marcia Harden's bra, and that is damned hot. The film also has some interesting character development. The Armand Assante part is quite interesting. He's a tough and ruthless criminal, but also a complicated multi-dimensional man who really loves his ex. As the film progresses, we see more and more of the criminal's strengths revealed, while we see the lawyer descend deeper and deeper into the world of violent criminals, all the while surprising himself with how easy it is to revert to savage behavior, and how pleasurable it can be.

Given some strengths and a pretty good cast, I don't think you'll find Fever unbearable if you happen to run into it on cable or something. On the other hand, I would not recommend that you make an effort to seek it out, for three reasons:

  • The pace of the thriller is slowed down excessively by various gratuitous sub-plots going on within the prison which the con has just left. The film's character development is deep enough that it takes a long time to deliver its punch even without these unnecessary digressions, so the prison scenes slow the film down to a pace which, in my opinion, is just too slow for an action film. Since the character development is actually one of the film's strengths, there was no room to cut any of that, so the only way to speed the film up would have been to minimize the prison scenes.
  • In the large portion of the story which takes place after the girlfriend is kidnapped and before she is is rescued, the film becomes essentially a "mismatched buddy" partnership without the humor. I don't how universal my attitude is, but for me the only real pleasure of a mismatched buddy film IS the humor. Red Heat? Trite story, but fun to watch because Jim Belushi constantly makes fun of Arnold. 48 Hours? Not much of a story at all, but Murphy and Nolte carry it with banter and bickering. And so forth. The formula just doesn't work for me without the funny put-downs.
  • Since Fever is ostensibly a formulaic thriller and not a hand-wringing drama, there's never any doubt that the mismatched buddies will save the woman's life. Therefore, the only suspense is derived from her ultimate choice between the two men ... and the viewer will actually forget about that choice for more than an hour during the "mismatched buddy" portion of the film.

The DVD is not worth acquiring. In addition to the fact that the film is so-so, the transfer is rather grainy and the disc has no features of any kind.



  • no features at all
  • the widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced (16x9)



Marcia Gay Harden shows her breasts in a sex scene, then again when the psycho cuts off her bra.

Many, many topless and bethonged strippers are seen in the background.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online


The People Vote ...

  • Made for Cable
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C-. It's a tolerable watch if you're tired and can't spot the remote, but it's not one worth seeking out.

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