Actress Bridget Fonda (1964-) is the daughter of actor Peter Fonda (1940-2019 lung cancer), the niece of actress Jane (1937-) and granddaughter of Henry Fonda (1905-82 heart disease). She is also the partner of composer Danny Elfman.
She retired from the screen before the age of forty after a bad car accident in Los Angeles left her with a broken vertebra.
Here are a couple of my favourite action films of hers which I think are pretty darn good. But let me first mention the film which made a bit of a cult star of her and that is Single White Female (1992). I liked it so much I saw it twice at the cinema and it is so influential today that women who saw it in their younger years are now showing it to their daughters. It is a scary movie and a cautionary tale of who you should pick as a roommate. It was second only to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven at the box office upon release and had a direct to DVD sequel in 2005.
The success of Single White Female would lead to the first action favourite of Bridget’s I like entitled Point of No Return aka The Assassin (1993). It is a remake of the French action film La Femme Nikita (1990) which was directed by famed French director, writer and producer Luc Besson (1959-). He refused to do the remake and director John Badham (1939-) took on the project. He directed Saturday Night Fever (1977) before more success in the 1980s with Blue Thunder (1983), WarGAmes (1983), Short Circuit (1986) and Stakeout (1987). He is the brother of actress Mary Badham (1952-) who many that studied To Kill a Mockingbird at school would recognise her as Scout in the 1962 film.
Bridget was not the first choice for Point of No Return as many were considered and Jodie Foster and Winona Rider turned it down. Many a review points at it being a bad movie and maybe those actresses saw the weakness of the script. Of maybe it was too ‘out there’.
It tells the story of a seemingly hopeless drug addict who is sentenced to death but upon her execution, she is ‘saved’ and recruited to be an assassin by a government organisation. She’s a tough nut to crack at first and attacks and nearly kills the agent in charge of her recruitment played by actor Gabriel Byrne (1950-). He responds by shooting her in the leg.
Demanding Nina Simone music and painkillers for her leg, she begins to make some kind of shallow transformation… Still a little undeterred and wanting to carry on as her old self, Bridget clears her throat when summoned to the head teacher of the project of which there are a number of recruits.
“Always smile when you enter a room dear, it relaxes others and it lifts the features of the face,” says Anne Bancroft (1931-2005 uterine cancer) in response to the recovering drug addict who in turn responds by spitting gum on the floor.
But Bancroft shows her charm and discipline and self-belief can lead to a full transformation from ugly duckling to swan.
“Belief is half of being… that’s just a fancy way of saying you’re pretty… you will be pretty, you’ll see.”
I liked the original Nikita and most of Luc Besson’s movies. I was depressed and living in London when I saw The Assassin as it was called in England and Australia. I was unemployed and the cinema was my outlet and has always been the relief in my life when times were bad. It was like you were the drug addict going to be “saved” by the school of film – even if it was only for a couple of hours at a time.
Despite Bridget spray-painting the walls of her room, this problem child is told by Byrne that the organisation is sick of her disobedience… “He mentioned the word ‘bullet’ and he mentioned the word ‘brain’,” says Byrne about word from the top. It is one of the more memorable lines in the movie. And this, of course, leads to the final transformation and Bridget is a swan… She is taken to a swank restaurant where Byrne leaves her with a gun to commit her first mission or her final exam – to kill. And she does so spectacularly with a custom chromed semi-automatic pistol.
It’s hard to describe Bridget’s beauty. She has an almost aquiline type of nose which points upward delicately at the end. If you believe those with noses that point upward are going to heaven, then she is. It belongs to a face which is beautiful and she radiates something while still having an even tomboyish look to her. The short hairstyles she wears in Single White Female and Point of No Return attest to this and makes the violence she performs all the more hard-edged and acceptable.
The film has an appearance by Miguel Ferrer (1955-2017 throat cancer), son of Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002 lung cancer) and Jose Ferrer (1912-92 colorectal cancer), who was so memorable in RoboCop (1987) and especially Stephen King’s The Night Flier (1997).
Bridget is codenamed Nina after her love of singer Nina Simone (1933-2003 in sleep). There are a few Simone classics used on the soundtrack and as a result it introduced the world of Simone to a new generation of listeners.
She then falls in love with Dermot Mulroney (1963-) along the way, carrying out a number of missions before one goes pear-shaped and a “cleaner” has to be called to deal with the mess. The cleaner kills witnesses and gets rid of bodies. And the cleaner is, of course, played by Harvey Keitel (1939-). The role of the original cleaner in Besson’s movie was played by French action icon Jean Reno (1948-). Keitel’s role as the cleaner was memorable enough for Quentin Tarantino to use Keitel again as the cleaner in Pulp Fiction (1994).
The original Le Femme Nikita was a follow-up to the success Besson had with The Big Blue (1988), which is not an action film but a drama about friendship and rivalry among free divers. In fact, producers let Besson make Nikita without even seeing a script.
That it was remade as Point of No Return in the States was no surprise as it was calculated that between 1987 and 1993 by Daily Variety that 17 contemporary French films of the 70s, 80s and 90s were remade in America.
From drug addict degenerate to beautiful hit-person, to be kind-of politically correct, Bridget doesn’t ooze coolness like her father did in Easy Rider (1969) and many of his films but she is slightly affecting and can strike a pose without difficulty.
In fact, the actress had a lack of awards and nominations during her career although in 1990, she got a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Mandy Rice-Davies (1944-2014 cancer) in British movie Scandal about the Profumo political scandal. It wouldn’t be until shortly before she retired that she’d get another nomination, this time for her work on television.
She peaked there for a while and I remember while still living in London I saw her at the local Putney cinema in It Could Happen to You (1994) with Nicolas Cage and The Road to Wellville (1994) based on T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel. The film prompted me to read the book.
Bridget has an unforgettable appearance in one of my favourite Tarantino’s – Jackie Brown (1997). Again, possibly influenced by Point of No Return, she plays the ill-fated and forever bonging girlfriend of Samuel L. Jackson (1948-), who calls Robert de Niro by his first name once too often. Bridget has plenty of good dialogue as you’d expect despite a small role. If she was ever really cool, it was in Jackie Brown. Anyone’s cool in a Tarantino!
Her father and aunt, not to mention her grandfather, had a stronger sense of character and image which demanded ‘coolness’. Bridget, while not exactly lacking this, has more of a certain frailty about her. Perhaps it is because she is so skinny and that sun-kissed face of hers… she passes muster.
Let’s move onto the second action feature Kiss of the Dragon (2001) and another film she made that year shortly before her retirement entitled Monkeybone (2001).
One of the biggest flops of 2001 was Monkeybone. When I was originally reviewing films for The Sunday Mail in Brisbane, back then, I remember I wanted to like this film and the film wanted to be liked… but it just didn’t work. I like Kiss of the Dragon much better. But as the years have passed and I have watched Monkeybone a few more times, on the odd occasion have liked it. Well, once really and I don’t know why. The same goes for Alex Winter’s Freaked (1993) and Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone (1980) – they are classics. They are far more crazy movies and shut on much smaller budgets, but there is a similar type of anarchy in Monkeybone…
It’s just they spent too much on it – a reported $75 million of which it made barely back ten million. It currently rates less than five out of ten on IMDb.
Starring Bridget, well barely, who seems she can’t cry on cue at the beginning… the real star is Brendan Fraser (1968-) who had proved he could handle laughs on a big budget with The Mummy (1999). He stars as the cartoonist and creator of the Monkeybone character. The film itself was based on the comic book Dark Town by Canadian cartoonist Kaja Blackley and illustrated by Vanessa Chong.
It has Fraser – who would do The Mummy Returns also in 2001 – in a coma after a car accident who finds himself in Dark Town, now known as Down Town, a land inhabited by various stop-motion characters, puppets and others in costume.
Will Fraser be turned off life-support and left in limbo where his creation Monkeybone is running rampant – perhaps soon to be turned loose into the real world!? There is lot going on in this movie but the flaw is that all its fantasy element effects don’t meld particularly well into one. The big budget doesn’t help as it needed some rough edges to work on such a level.
“We see a lot of nightmares down here, but yours are like caviar,” says a cloven-hoofed and horned character to Fraser who is a talented comedian left to pick up the threads under the direction of Henry Selick (1952-). Selick is a stop-motion specialist whose work and direction appeared successfully in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) which is a classic. I saw it in 4-D at the El Capitan theatre a few Halloweens ago. Selick also did James and the Giant Peach (1996). These film successes saw him do Monkeybone and he wouldn’t recover from its failure on the big screen until he directed Coraline (2009) released some eight years later. That film was a box office hit and an award winner.
While Monkeybone didn’t win any Razzies, which shows it’s not considered a total loss, the Razzies had bigger fish to fry with Battlefield Earth (2000). I find that a perfectly respectable movie for some reason! Anyway, I think Monkeybone missed out because it was released so close to Razzie nomination time. Selick should have stuck to children’s films instead of not going quite all the way in creating an adult movie. The movie’s bad taste precludes it from really being a kid’s film.
Yes, it is surreal, but it depends on your mood when you see Monkeybone and certainly the first third is better than the second, while the final third it really takes off in terms of rampant comedy and chase extravaganza as Fraser inhabits the body of a dead gymnast who has broken his neck and has donated his organs to a bunch of greedy doctors. It’s a spirited finale and Bridget is really hardly in it although we find she really can cry on cue in the ending scenes.
Kiss of the Dragon is the last really good Bridget Fonda movie and it is related to Point of No Return. Kiss of the Dragon was written and produced by Luc Besson from a story by martial arts actor Jet Li (1963-). It also features Tcheky Karyo (1953-) who was in Besson’s La Femme Nikita (1990).
Besson seemed to think by 2000 that it was better to make films directly for the English-speaking market, rather than have his films remade. He had already done his film The Fifth Element (1997) starring Bruce Willis in English before Kiss of the Dragon and has been prolific ever since, especially with Liam Neeson’s Taken franchise which he wrote and co-wrote. This was the film that made a ‘real’ action hero of Li, not one that relied heavily on wires and computer driven effects.
Set in Paris, it has Karyo as a corrupt cop mixed up with a Chinese mob boss and under the investigation of a Chinese intelligence agent played by Li. Bridget is a prostitute caught up in the mob boss’s murder in a hotel room.
What is so great about Besson’s action set pieces, especially in this film, is how far-fetched they can be but they are ingenious enough to work. It is not Li’s first English language film. He was the baddie in Lethal Weapon 4 (1988) and had a lead role in Romeo Must Die (2000).
The year of Kiss of the Dragon, he also did The One (2001) which featured Jason Statham (1967-) who would go on to do Besson’s The Transporter (2002). Besson wrote and co-wrote all four Transporter films. He must have a bit of money stashed away!
Also, in the film is the actor who played Cato in The Pink Panther movies Bert Kwouk (1930-2016 cancer) as Uncle Tai.
“Family recipe, very tasty,” says uncle, putting dumplings in front of Li.
Meanwhile Karyo is having a stroke trying to catch Li who has taken recordings of Karyo killing the mob boss. Poor Bridget suffers the indignity of being made a heroin addict and nearing forty, she is still a striking woman… But isn’t that just how it is, that we latch onto the striking and the beautiful? They have something which we lack, or that we want – beauty, stature, composure. Is it because they are thin and sexy? It’s more than just sex, if it is that at all. Is it because they have a personality to match? Whatever it is I don’t have it and so admire it in actors and actresses.
Heroin addicted Bridget passes out in Li’s uncle’s restaurant kitchen toilet and soon they will link up together… There’s a great fight scene on a tourist barge on the Seine in front of the Eiffel Tower… One of Karyo’s henchmen gets killed with chopsticks in one scene, and I’m sure that’s not the first time it’s happened in a movie…
“Who’s Santa Claus?,” asks naïve Li over the then cultural divide, when he and Bridget are on the run… The culture clash that is Bridget and Li is slightly amusing, especially when she alludes that he’s gay – he’s not, of course, I mean heaven forbid, this is a mainstream action movie… But Karyo has Bridget’s daughter…
“My life is hell, Richard is the devil, he has my daughter and he’s going to kill her and then he’s gonna kill me,” Bridget emotes in her most effective scene.
The Kiss of the Dragon of the title, by the way, is an acupuncture point in the back of the neck which leads to a painful and lingering death.
Bridget said in an interview the thought of making in action film in Paris was “absolutely delicious” and that Besson had especially chosen her for the role.
“Luc Besson’s female characters are always great… I was aboard without a script… I had my first wardrobe fitting done without having read a script.”
She said about her character in the film: “She’s on a ride…. She gets in the car, there’s not even a safety belt and it goes.” Ironic words considering her car accident.
“He’s an amazing set of muscle,” said Bridget of Jet Li, “He’s a physical phenomenon.”
“I love action films,” reckons Bridget and martial arts films are a “guilty pleasure” for her. Perhaps just a tease for her film, but I like the girl.
Bridget said if you are an actor in a movie to go and see the film with a paying audience to get a real idea of the public’s reaction.
Bridget Fonda had bone structure and a beautiful and subtle nose to boot. Her female-centric horror film Single White Female and her first actioner Point of No Return are probably her most memorable. She was also in Bernardo Bertolucci’s (1941-2018 lung cancer) Little Buddha (1993). While not a bona fide star like her grandfather and aunt, she gave some decent and slightly vulnerable performances…. Forever a memory in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown for mispronouncing “Louis” – she was also an influence on Luc Besson…. It was in February 2003 that Bridget was headed south to Malibu when she lost control of her 2001 Jaguar, which flipped over an embankment and tumbled downhill. The car was totalled but amazingly she survived. I hope she is having a happy retirement with her son and husband Danny Elfman.