The Swiss-French-American star has had his fair share of attempts at cracking the A-List, mind you with an oeuvre that boasts almost 90 screen appearances; everything from John Greystoke in a Tarzan adventure to a mad-monk in GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, it's no surprise, then, that one of his better titles, the 1992 Stuart Gordon-directed sci-fi actioneer FORTRESS, has one of only two recurring characters in his CV, John Brennick.
It's a campy 95-minutes set in 2015 when America has imposed a one-child policy due to its exploding population. Brennick and his wife get busted at a check-point-Charlie while trying to smuggle the pregnant woman out of Dodge to Mexico (of course) and they're sentenced to 31 years hard-time at the Men-Tel Corp's Fortress, a state-of-the-art prison that drops 33 stories into the earth and is run by Poe (Kurtwood Smith), a sadistic, by-any-means-necessary warden. There's lots of explosions, cyborgs, lasers, cyborgs with lasers, more explosions, cameras and lasers before Brennick and his posse blow the joint and leg it to freedom.
Cut to 2000 and FORTRESS 2: RE-ENTRY gets a release date and it has a (very) brief theatrical turn before dropping on to video-stores shelves around the world. Stuart Gordon stepped aside, making way for New Zealander Geoff 'FREEJACK' Murphy, hot off the back of, erm... UNDER SIEGE 2 and a made-for-cable western, THE LAST OUTLAW starring Mickey Rourke.
So, after the most outrageous escape from the most inescapable prison owned by the most powerful corporation and run by the most ruthless warden, what could be in store for Brennick now? All too often setting a sequel in space means the beginning of a severe downward spiral for the franchise. Sometimes it comes around later (FRIDAY THE 13TH 10: JASON X) rather than sooner (HELLRAISER 4: BLOODLINES or LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE) but it's rare it should come around on the second instalment but that's precisely where FORTRESS 2 went. No shit, space. Just ... skip to the end.
After a prologue set in a gorgeous wilderness lodge in the Rockies, FORTRESS 2 sees Brennick, 7 years after the events in the first film, with his rag-tag group of Rebels enduring in their continuing assault on Men-Tel. They're re-captured and sent to a MORE inescapable prison with a MORE ruthless warden where they plan a MORE outrageous escape -- In space! Daft? Yes. Ropey? You betcha. Fun? Tons. Way more than you might think. Is it good though? No. Not even close.
Like most uninspired sequels, FORTRESS 2 is essentially a remake of the first, swapping this for that and him for her and smashing rocks for zero-G space-walks. There's the expected chow-time brawl, the warden's evil right-hand-man, the muscle-head that comes around eventually and Pam Grier, popping in while riding the tail-end of her short-lived JACKIE BROWN career resurgence.
The special effects are lacklustre and the acting turns are less than adequate, so what is it that makes it so much fun? Lambert. That's pretty much it. Christopher Lambert and his inimitable charm. He has the acting capacity of an after-dinner mint and possesses less facial expressions than a overly thirsty Steven Seagal, but he holds a charm you just can't deny when he's on screen.
Had Mr Brennick gone the way of Mrs Brennick and been recast for RE-ENTRY, this follow-up would have went from bad to just downright intolerable, but luckily, thanks to Lambert, we get to pass the time in a sort of comfort. Given his history with the *ahem* 'character', and the depths his career sunk to at one point, it wouldn't be a surprise if his agent put in a call and said 'Don't worry, Christopher, if all goes wrong there's always FORTRESS 3.' Whether or not that's a good thing will remain a mystery. For now, at least.