There's nothing real in this…but the money.
If there's anything we can blame on Quentin Tarantino, it's the plethora of gangster-type movies featuring a tough-talking but oddly quirky mob boss, fancy-shmancy dialogue driven plots driven by non-sequential storytelling. Most of these movies, like the ridiculous Luck Of The Draw or the hideous cop movie Double Bang, are pretty difficult to watch without throwing a large rock through the television, but every now and then a great story like The Usual Suspects might actually emerge from the riff raff. Even more occasionally, however, we might actually a diamond formed in the kitty litter box that might be worthwhile, even if it needs a bit of polishing to be enjoyed. This can be said about the Robert Patrick/Jennifer Esposito vehicle Back Flash, which is brought to a lavishly expensive DVD courtesy of Buena Vista.
Facts of the Case
Ray (Patrick, Spy Kids, The Faculty) is a dopey country bumpkin who runs a video store out in the middle of nowhere in the southwest. Opening anything out in the middle of nowhere is not a smart way to insure a steady income, a fact that may have eluded Ray when he opened the store but is certainly now well aware of. When Ray decides to take a couple of days off to talk about a business to get rid of the store, he runs into the just-paroled Harley (Esposito, Don't Say A Word), a streetwise chick who can handle a gun just as easily as she can twist a guy around her finger. Harley takes something of a liking to Ray and confides in him that she has $2 million sitting in a safe deposit box at a bank, and to get it she needs Ray to pose as her deceased husband. If he does this she'll split the money with him. (Yeah, right!) The plot doesn't necessarily go as planned due to the interference of Harley's old boss, a freakishly gruff and hot-weather-hating bastard played by Colm Meaney (The Snapper), and his hired gun, the overweight, buffoonish cool-dude-wannabe played by one of the greatest That Guys ever, Mike Starr (Cabin Boy). Once the money is recovered, the chase is on and the backstabbing (and the fun) begins.
The plot I described above pretty much takes place during the first hour of Back Flash in the form of a, well, a flashback. The film actually begins with Ray waking up in a hotel room wearing really nerdy yuppie-wear with the remains of a champagne bottle broken over his head and lying on the floor around him. The film will manage to utilize roughly 90,000 flashbacks to cover the plot points that get completely missed by the viewer as the story zigzags all over the map. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as many of the finer points of the plot are pretty subtle. As I watched the film a second time (with the director's commentary on, actually), there were a lot of clues that I managed to pick up that I had previously disregarded as useless information or were simply far too subtle to see. The first time through there would be actions taken by the characters that would cause me to think, "Hey, why the hell did they do that? Isn't that a bit out of character?" Then I'd get closer to the end of the film and a bit of information would get released to the audience via flashback and that plot point would suddenly make sense. The note pad I used to compose my thoughts for various review subjects is usually filled with pretty solid observations like, in the case of Luck of the Draw, I would write astute ramblings such as, "This sucks." In the case of Back Flash, my note pad is filled with scribbles and erase marks due to all of the plot twists. The plot may not be as clever as that of, say, The Usual Suspects, but kudos are definitely in store for writer/director Phillip J. Jones for presenting a complex plot in a simple way while throwing enough curves in the road to make the film's climax a pretty decent payoff.
There are many people in the fandom community who probably dislike Robert Patrick for the sole reason that he took over David Duchovny's spot on The X-Files. I will grant these fans that getting rid of Mulder and Scully on The X-Files is the equivalent of removing Rob Estes and Mitzi Kapture from Silk Stalkings, but this is really not the fault of the excellent Robert Patrick. Patrick brings a clever, calm subtlety to Back Flash that really needs to be seen to be appreciated, and to talk about his role and how his character develops would be to absolutely ruin the plot, which is something that I won't be doing here. Jennifer Esposito is completely believable as the sexy but tough-as-nails Harley, who leads Ray on a merry ride through the Southwest. Colm Meaney is excellent, as always, as the villainous Gin even if his character is a bit out of whack with reality (and I mean that in a bad way—more on that later). But the biggest eye-opener in the film is "good girl" Melissa Joan Hart (TV's Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) appearing in a cameo as a trailer trash "coroner" who uses corpses to launder money. Go back and read that sentence again to let it sink in. In addition to That Guy Mike Starr showing up, I feel the need to point out that another great That Guy, Michael J. Pollard (Scrooged), manages a cameo as a none-too-bright bank guard. It's two That Guys for the price of one! You need to see movies like Road House for that kind of value!
Keeping in perspective that this is a super low budget, straight-to-video release, Back Flash has been given a fairly decent anamorphic transfer. It's not without its flaws, like some edge enhancement, but the colors are all properly represented. This won't be a DVD you use to show off your system, but it's very passable and the flaws are not enough to be distracting in any way. Unfortunately, the sound is a mere 2.0 channel mix, which hurts the film as a whole. Jones went out of the way to have a decent soundtrack composed for Back Flash, but there's nothing to help show it off. I'll grant that most of the film is driven by conversation, but there are times when some incidental background noise would have greatly added to the immersiveness of the story. The special features include a pretty solid commentary by director Phillip J. Jones, who manages to point out all the little details I managed to miss when I watch Back Flash for the first time. (Note: do not watch the commentary before watching the movie itself; the plot gets spoiled repeatedly throughout.) The rest of the features consist of some deleted scenes and outtakes that all have an accompanying commentary track that can be turned on and off as desired. All in all, this wouldn't be a bad package if you could pick up for about fifteen bucks, but unfortunately Buena Vista thinks it's worth about thirty, which is a genuinely myopic view of the DVD business as a whole.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the rousing payoff in Back Flash, the film does not come without its share of issues. I sat through the first 45 or so minutes thinking it was, at best, a mediocre film (and that's actually being pretty kind). I couldn't foresee the things that were to come in the story, and the ending was certainly worth the wait, but there are going to be a lot of people with low attention spans who aren't forced to watch movies by website editors like I am. The few people who actually manage to pick up and watch Back Flash may not give it the opportunity it needs to unravel, and this may be the film's undoing. There are certainly some amusing parts to the film leading up to the climax, but they may not be enough to hold everyone's interest.
The other major problem I had was Colm Meaney's character, Gin. This is a guy who shuns the heat, keeps the air conditioning set to about twenty degrees, and thinks it's Christmas year round. Is this a guy you would want running your highly profitable money laundering operation? I didn't think so. I understand the need to try to create memorable and quirky characters (it follows the Tarantino mold and was probably done best with Christopher Walken's quadriplegic Man With the Plan in Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead), but I think maybe everybody went just a bit too far beyond quirky into the realm of "this guy doesn't make sense." Meaney does what he can with the character, and I'll always consider him a decent actor (especially after seeing The Snapper), but the character just doesn't fit in here despite a couple of funny moments of interaction with Mike Starr.
Back Flash turned out to be a pretty decent little indy film, but I only wish it hadn't taken me 70 minutes into the 90 minute run time to realize this. At a very unreasonable purchase price, you're probably better off giving this one a rent at your local Megabuster Rental Chain Store™. To get an immersive effect when watching this film, turn your air conditioning down to about 50 so you can see just how crazy Colm Meaney's character really is.
The cast and crew of Back Flash is free to go, but the marketing wonks at Buena Vista have some issues to work out and need to stop living in the past. I'm ordering a psychiatric evaluation to determine if they're able to stand trial.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
• Feature Length Commentary by Director Phillip J. Jones
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