Sony // 2000 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // June 12th, 2000
Justice under siege!
Backlash is a made for TV movie done on a low budget and it shows. Tight production schedules and not nearly enough time to smooth out a flawed script result in an uneven story that shows moments of excellence punctuated by insipid scenes, resulting in a film that feels like a jigsaw puzzle that was missing a few pieces. What nearly saves the film from itself are memorable characters; well performed by one of my favorite character actors Charles Durning (One Fine Day, The Hudsucker Proxy, Tootsie) and one of my favorite action/comedy actors James Belushi (Made Men, Mr. Destiny, Red Heat) in a supporting role among them.
The look of the film and the action scenes do not give away the low budget independent film it is. It actually has the look of a mainstream picture; lighting, set design, and production values seem fine. There are several graphically violent scenes that are disturbing and very realistic, along with plenty of gunfire that looks like it belongs in a more expensive movie. The villains are exceptionally sinister and give a real sense of menace; especially Tony Plana (Lone Star, JFK, Nixon) in the Columbian drug dealer role and Henry Silva (Above the Law among many) as the Sicilian mob boss. In fact, most of the supporting cast gave good performances and had some good dialogue to work with.
James Belushi and Charles Durning were really the high points in the movie though. Casting Durning as a police detective is a no-brainer; you just know he looks the part and knows how to portray him to a T. Belushi plays his ex-con character with professionalism and the experience he's gained in several similar roles. In this film the ex-con has a secret that makes him much more fleshed out and gives him more to work with. My biggest disappointment is he isn't a bigger part of the film.
The story isn't exactly groundbreaking, but suffices well enough: A prosecutor puts a big drug dealer behind bars and his henchmen want to kill her and her co-counsel for revenge. There are a couple subplots going on as well; the jealous prosecutor (JoBeth Williams, Poltergeist, Wyatt Earp, The Big Chill) who would rather see her rival die than reveal she has an illegally paid informant, and Frank (James Belushi) as the con who rises to be the right hand man of the Sicilian mob boss. The main story follows our heroine (Tracey Needham, TV's JAG) and those who are trying to protect her from the Columbian cartel.
As I said, this was made for television fare, and therefore it is in full frame. The picture looks quite good overall, with good colors, sharp detail and a lack of artifacts or film defects. The soundtrack is just as good; with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track made for the DVD presentation. Dynamic and frequency range are fine; gunshots sound realistic and dialogue is always audible. Surrounds aren't utilized as much as I'd have liked but that is probably a function of the original stereo soundtrack. Still the film looks and sounds fine.
Columbia picked up this indie film and produced the DVD; and I have to say they fixed one of their problems I've often complained about; namely their Talent Files. These are extremely thorough files on both cast and filmmakers. Do them all like this Columbia and you'll hear no more complaints about the Talent Files from me. The menus are quite good as well; especially the windows showing clips of the film for the 28 chapters. There is also a feature length commentary track with director Jack Ersgard along with his brother Patrick, who rewrote the script and had a well played supporting role. Actually the commentary track was more interesting than the film; which combined technical insights into the making of the film with anecdotes about the shooting and the actors. That type of combination often makes for the best commentary tracks. I especially liked how honest they were as they watched the film and commented on how they wished they could have done things differently; especially spending more than a week or so on rewriting a very rough script. Ersgard comes right out and admits this isn't his best work but takes the blame and compliments the actors on doing a fine job.
This film, with more time and polish, could have been much better; and could have become a very nice picture in the process. The script was especially lacking; alternating between great dialogue and stupid lines that did not work. The pacing went too far astray as well; sometimes moving very well and then stopping for an overly obvious exposition scene. Other times there were scenes that felt like they were just inserted (and were) in a place that didn't work.
While casting was generally terrific, the lead role of the prosecutor Gina Gallagher was horribly miscast by giving the role to Tracey Needham. She simply never convinced me at all that she was her character; she looked like a Barbie doll stuck in the role. In part she simply looked too pretty to be her character, but that alone would simply be a matter of perception. She simply wasn't up to the demands of the role as an actress. I almost didn't blame JoBeth Williams' character for assuming she had slept her way to the top and wanting her out of the way. Unfortunately that role as well was poorly written and was one of the bigger problems in the film. I kept asking myself "would she really want so many people to be in danger rather than find some excuse not to reveal her source of information?" That whole subplot was too suspect and hurt the film greatly.
For some reason, Michael Damian of "Young and the Restless" fame was cast in a throwaway role as the boyfriend to be broken up with early. He was given one long running take to do every line he had in the movie due to the overly tight shooting schedule, and the fact is his entire part should have been written out of the film. It simply added meaningless minutes to the film which could have been much better utilized elsewhere.
I think you get the drift on my feelings about the film. Where it was good it was very good, but too many things were poorly written or executed. What a shame.
I don't really have any complaints about the disc; for a low budget indie flick Columbia came through with enough extras and good picture and sound.
I can't really recommend this disc for purchase. It might make an interesting rental and worth an hour and a half is nothing else is on TV. You might find it on TV under the name "Justice" as well.
The Ersgard brothers are fined for agreeing to make this film without adequate time to work on the script or get the polish it needed. The actors in the film, except for Tracey Needham are all acquitted for doing pretty good work. Tracy should work on her skills and get some different roles; her work as the "strong woman lawyer" hasn't worked for me in either "JAG" or in this. She's nice to look at, but that part needs more.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director/Screenwriter Commentary
* Talent Files