Paramount // 1990 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // October 11th, 2002
The yippie and the yuppie. Only a vowel stands between them.
A number of years ago I spent an entire Saturday convalescing from a major hangover. Though these things happen infrequently now that I've "grown up," my cure was basically to scrape myself out of bed and plop myself on the sofa in front of the TV and simply not move. Ever. For any reason. You see, these hangovers (yes, I was young and stupid) were pretty bad and they'd feel like I had dozens of large men running around in my head and shouting unintelligibly, like at a football game only different. So I'm there vegging out in front of the TV when a movie called Flashback came on the TV, and maybe it was the side effects of the alcohol, but I really hated the movie. And I couldn't turn it off because it hurt too much to move, and the large shouting men wouldn't allow me to work the remote.
Flashback is now available on DVD, and I decided to give it another chance (read: someone decided to send it to me in a package to counterbalance a good movie). Unfortunately, the movie lived up to its name and I vividly remembered that horrible hangover.
Jack Buckner (Kiefer Sutherland, Dark City, TV's 24) is a straight-laced, buttoned-up shirt, by-the-book FBI agent who gets assigned to escort a fugitive to somewhere in Idaho to stand trial, with the big joke on him being that nobody actually lives in Idaho. [Editor's Note: Kevin hasn't learned the hard lesson that I have: The three people who live in Idaho have no sense of humor.] His assignment is one Huey Walker (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider, Speed), a filthy, dirty, radical hippie who is accused of uncoupling Spiro Agnew's train car and stranding him on the tracks in Idaho. Huey's been in hiding after escaping FBI custody twenty years ago, but he resurfaced and was promptly arrested.
As you can already guess, the pairing of Jack and Huey is a massive contrast of the times. Jack represents the evil, money-grubbing greed of the '80s and Huey represents the age of free love, ingesting random substances, and cowering in a corner until the room stopped moving. Naturally, they hate each other.
Since there are no airports in Idaho, Jack and Huey hop a train with predestined checkpoints along the way to make sure Huey doesn't escape yet again. While trying to pass the time, however, Huey manages to dupe Jack into thinking he's taken acid, which causes him to down a bottle of tequila ("You need a downer, man"), which gets Jack blotto for the first time in his life. Huey seizes the opportunity to pose as Jack and make good on another escape. Hilarity then ensues.
Jack gets thrown in the drunk tank where he's beaten by his cellmate and then by the local sheriff, who also happens to be running for Congress. Once the case of mistaken identity is solved, Jack threatens to see Sheriff Hightower (Cliff De Young, a That Guy from The Craft, F/X, and a plethora of other movies) prosecuted, which turns out to be a bad decision because Sheriff Hightower decides to have Jack severely killed.
The chase is then on, with Jack trying to bring Huey to justice and to safety. But Jack is harboring a pretty deep secret -- he's from this area and grew up in a filthy, disgusting hippie commune, which is now only populated by the mumbling and incomprehensible Maggie (Carol Kane, Scrooged, The Princess Bride). Will our dimwitted duo make their way to safety? Will Jack succumb to his hippie past and be taken, kicking and screaming, from the evil that was the '80s?
The whole point of Flashback seemed to be a trip down memory lane in an attempt to remember a bygone era of hippie insurrection, free love, and rampant drug use, and the film greatly succeeds thanks to its two leads, Hopper and Sutherland. Sutherland has always been a capable actor and his dry, deadpan delivery brings a lot to the comedic side of the movie. Hopper isn't all that great of an actor, but he gets by on his reputation from Easy Rider and helps fill the necessary gaps in Flashback. Let's face up to the fact that if you need a guy to say "man" to accentuate every piece of his dialogue, Dennis Hopper is probably your guy. Despite the fact that the plot had more holes than Huey Walker's clothing, Sutherland and Hopper are almost (note the word "almost") able to make this a tolerable film. They are not helped by a sub-par supporting cast, consisting mostly of Carol Kane, who acted with her mouth full of crackers or something, and a scenery-chewing Cliff De Young, whose character made Roscoe P. Coltraine look competent and level-headed. Other throwaway characters appear and disappear and fill out the mandatory clichés. There's the overzealous FBI dude and the understanding FBI guy. There's the former flower children who try to relive their '60s drug-induced fantasies. And there's the dumb as garden slugs sheriff deputies who get convinced that Jack is an armed menace who needs to be shot on sight. It didn't give Sutherland and Hopper much to work with, but they still manage a couple of awkwardly funny moments.
Flashback comes to us via Paramount Home Entertainment, which generally means you're going to get a tolerable anamorphic transfer with no special features on an over-priced DVD. These things are all true with Flashback. The transfer itself is pretty shaky towards the beginning of the film, exhibiting some problems with digital artifacts and inconsistent levels of black, but the problems become fewer and farther between as the film progresses. There are times when the transfer is picture perfect, and others where minor flaws are noticeable. Edge enhancement is minimal at the worst, but overall there's not too much to complain about. The soundtrack is a 5.1 channel mix, but it's not entirely inspiring. Rear channel speakers get some usage but not enough to really justify the mix. I'm glad it's there, but it's hardly noticeable.
First of all I should point out that this is yet another movie with a totally stupid name. Flashback. One would think from the title that the filmmaker worked some decent non-sequential storytelling, but this was not the case. Number of flashbacks in Flashback: Zero. This is not to be confused with the movie Back Flash, of which most of the story is a flashback. Since this film is more of an extension from Hopper's Billy from Easy Rider, sort of a what would happen twenty years later, why not just call this "Easy Rider 2: On the Lam From the Feds." I'd have been happier.
I mentioned the plot holes earlier, and I wanted to take a few moments to elaborate on what made Flashback an enormous torture to watch. First off you have Huey manipulating a chessboard that's right in front of Jack without Jack noticing. We're not talking about moving one piece while Jack isn't looking, he moves every piece on the board from the start of the game so he can checkmate Jack and further convince him that Huey secretly dropped a tab of acid in Jack's bottled water. At the same time, Huey manages to deftly change the time on Jack's watch, etcetera. Right. The story later establishes Huey as something of an escape artist, but there's a level of believability that needs to be maintained. And the solution to kicking the acid trip that wasn't actually happening? A bottle of tequila! How did Jack pass through Quantico when it's pretty obvious he doesn't even have the brainpower to dress himself?
As I also revealed, Jack grew up in a hippie commune and he rebelled against his parents, most likely as his parents had rebelled against their parents. In this case, Jack ran away from home, changed his identity, and became a Republican FBI agent. Right. The FBI never does background checks on applicants.
In a scene where Sheriff Hightower first attempts to have Jack and Huey both shot, the trio is standing on a bridge over some whitewater. To make their escape, they hurl themselves off the bridge in a scene exactly like the one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, only different. This despite the fact that Huey screams that he can't swim. Needless to say he's in the turbulent water for an awfully long time. At night. And Jack finds him minutes later and pulls him out of the water alive and kicking. Right. Huey should have ended up downriver facedown in a logjam.
That naturally brings us to the inept Sheriff Hightower, who repeatedly orders Jack and Huey to be shot on sight, even in front of Jack's superior at the FBI. His corrupt attitude seemingly infects his entire department, as all of his deputies follow suit without question. Right. All police officers are soulless, fascist pigs who get off on gunning down defenseless FBI agents in cold blood.
And then there's the climax with Huey standing on a train car daring the overzealous FBI agent to shoot at him, knowing full well that it's darn near impossible to hit a guy from the back of a moving train. Never mind the fact that he's standing right in front of three large tanks carrying flammable material. Right. Stray bullets hitting a metal tank would never, ever, in a million years ignite flammable material.
These were things that even an immobile person with a vast hangover could notice. The lesson here is, when you're writing a script, please try to avoid insulting the intelligence of the audience.
All in all Flashback is a pretty stupid movie that manages a couple of cheap laughs amidst the bad script. They're few and far between, though I'd highly recommend watching this movie unless you had something more important to do, like counting the ceiling tiles in your living room or chasing those damn squirrels out of your yard.
The cast and crew of Flashback are guilty of making a poor movie. They're sentenced to take a shower, put away their bongs, buy some decent clothes, and come to grips with reality and realize that the '60s are over, man. Like, gone, man.
And could somebody please tell me what a "yippie" is? I feel so unhip at not knowing a made up word.
Review content copyright © 2002 Kevin Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R