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Fear (1996)
Rated R

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, and William Peterson

Rating:
**
out of
*****

The idea behind Fear is a good one. In fact, it's so good that it's been used many times before. Cape Fear, Fatal Attraction, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, and Single White Female are all variations on the same theme.

All of these movies revolve around the principle of introducing a charming, seemingly normal, but soon-to-be-revealed-as-psychotic character into another character's slightly unbalanced and fragile world and then seeing how long it takes for the whole situation to topple over into a violent confrontation.

This time, the psycho is David McCall (Mark Wahlberg, formerly known as Marky Mark), who charms his way into the life of Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon). True to formula, the 16-year-old Nicole is going through a rough period in her life. Her parents split up when she was young and she's recently moved in with her father (William Peterson), who's trying to win back his daughter's respect that he lost after the divorce.

To it's credit, Fear does a lot of good things with the formula at first. The relationship between David and Nicole is handled nicely by director James Foley. Some genuine emotional spark exists between the characters who are supposed to be in love. Wahlberg is surprisingly likeable when he's in "nice guy mode" and Witherspoon has a charming screen presence.

But problems arise, in both the on-screen relationship and the movie itself, when Nicole's father starts to act on his suspicions that David isn't really the innocent guy he seems to be. Of course he's right, but the movie still has to go through all of the predictable motions trying to get the tension worked up to a feverish climax. At the moment David goes into "psycho mode," the movie's potential vaporizes into a by-the-numbers ending.

Fear isn't a horrible movie, but it's disappointing to see it disintegrate into a stock formula picture when it initially looked as if it would be a pleasant surprise.

Trivia: Yes, that's Alyssa Milano as Nicole Walker's friend, Margo. She played Samantha on the Who's the Boss? TV show. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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