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The Fence Reviews

Dreary, trite, substandard...the list of words that could describe THE FENCE just goes on and on. While searching for pejoratives, viewers will cluck their tongues in disbelief that producers could still be dishing the sort of "message" prison drama that charismatic stars like John Garfield once had to work overtime to put across. Nearing his release date, model convict Terry Griff (Billy Wirth) hopes to overcome the stigma of having slain his family-battering father when he was but a juvenile. His re-entry into society is marred by the drug death of his cell-buddy Del Reston (Paul Benjamin), whom prison pusher Rudy Borelli (Marc Alaimo) cajoled into one fatal trip before saying good-bye to stir. On the outside, slammer vet Terry encounters a world where jobs are menial and where Del's sister-in-law Jackie (Erica Gimpel) resents his possible bad influence on Del's young son Jerry (Mark Lane). Attempting to avoid minor infractions, Terry ignores small-time hustler Bobby Styles (Suli McCullough) when he pitches a partnership. Subsequently, cool Terry goes off the deep end when he learns that his parole officer Mr. Price (Lorenzo Clemons) is siphoning off a kickback from his paycheck. Even thought it means sacrificing a new start with Jackie, rebellious Terry chokes Price and takes it on the lam. Stepping off the straight-and-narrow, Terry elicits Styles's aid in ripping off a cash box full of $250,000 worth of spendable bonds. Ironically, the loot belongs to none other than crime-king Borelli, the man responsible for Del's drug death. Unfortunately, their fences snitch, and the Borelli Boys torture Styles savagely. Wounded during a gunfight at Borelli headquaters, Terry nontheless frees Styles, and leaves a trapped Borelli to die in an explosion. Unable to break free of the cycle of violence initiated by his father, the anti-hero dies alone on the streets. Mechanically directed and formulaically written, this prison drama resurrects dated philosophical musings about the individual's freedom in society, the corruption of amoral men who operate outside the Law whether in or out of jail, and the quaint notion that among certain thieves there is honor. In addition to turtle-like pacing and simplistically conceived characters, the film founders on its leading man's limitations. Sullenly handsome Wirth has mumbled his way through several action pics, but never has he been given the opportunity to build a performance. This is his missed opportunity. Looking like a model for Calvin Klein prison jeans, Wirth can pout, kickbox, and twist the corner of his lip into an uncertain, all-purpose smile. What he cannot do is hold together this movie. Only in detailing the creative sadism of convicts does the film give itself a boost. Otherwise, self-defender Terry's attempts to struggle out of a stacked deck send the audience to naptime right in the middle of their guided penitentiary tour.(Graphic violence, extensive profanity, adult situations, substance abuse.)