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Case Number 04100: Small Claims Court

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Back Road Diner

Troma // 1999 // 89 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // March 18th, 2004

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All Rise...

The Charge

Do the right thing…avoid this film.

The Case

Four old buddies from decidedly different walks of life are planning a Deliverance-style trip to the boonies for a little R&R&B; that's rest, relaxation, and booty. Dre is a doctor (how appropriate) with a family practice. Phil is a professor who makes his morbidly obese, white dean even more puffed up with his in-class petulance. George is a Latino loser who apparently makes way over $60K a year as a mechanic (but all he can afford is a broken down, mangled '77 Mercury Marquise to cruise around in). And then there's Wilson. He's a smooth talker. He's an accomplished ladies man. And he's a Federal Agent. Give him a martini and a manservant, and he could be the next great master spy. After about three weeks…I mean days on the road, they stop off at a local diner to whet their waistline. Amazingly enough, while only traveling up the East Coast (with the amount of time they've spent behind the wheel, they should be near Santy Claus by now), they run into a bunch of heehaw halfwits who drawl like they just finished whistling "Dixie." There is a scuffle, a skirmish, and a bit of a smash-up. Fleeing the scene of their obvious non-hate crime, our four profiles are immediately ID'd by the local sheriff who decides to apply some swift justice, vigilante-frontier style (even though he's about five miles from the Arctic Circle if you believe the map maneuvers going on here). Shotguns blast, people pass away, and the whole thing stinks of a message movie that someone forgot to load up with significance. All this because our intelligent professionals violated the first rule of movie law: never stop off at a Back Road Diner that even truckers avoid as "scary."

There have been a lot of confused things in the last few years: President Clinton and his definition of "sex," The Wachowski Brothers and their ability to round out a trilogy, and Hayden Christensen and his difficulty with the two syllable sentiment "M'Lady." But nothing can compare to the splintered bewilderment of Back Road Diner. This is a movie that can never make up its mind what it wants to be, even after the final scene is over and the audience is standing in line, demanding their preview cards back. It starts out like a modified buppie version of Hangin' with the Homeboys, except this quartet of uptight tools couldn't carry on a coordinated conversation if their life depended on it (and it does later…it really does). Once the well-paid specialists hop in the last remaining junker in all of Manhattan (homeless stool samples have better cars that George), we are suddenly circumventing memory lane. Indeed, the four flashback sequences that make up the first act of the movie take up the vast majority of the narrative. First, we must witness Wilson's fight career, lovingly remembered in monochrome to up the Scorsese factor. Call this callous sequence Raging Bulls**t, since that's what you feel like after watching it. Then we get the sequence where Wilson has Ben Gay and Icy Hot substituted for his sex aid cream. This practical joke plays out over 10 long, laborious minutes and contains perhaps the longest setup-to-punch-line quotient ever recorded by the International Conference on Comedy. Overcooked tube steak is definitely on the menu after this un-funny fiasco. George recalls a time when they stopped his naked mother in mid butt sex. And everyone gets a giggle out of recalling how Phil once felt up a transsexual in a movie theater. Hilarious!

Just when you think we are going to witness a med-school flashback to Dre, a bottle of malt liquor, and a willing cadaver, the plot takes a left turn at Albuquerque and heads over into intolerance territory. Aside from a minor mix-up where a couple of gals show some silly bias at being sexually harassed by the gents, we are not fully prepared for the "n"-word fest that's about to begin. The bigots are standard issue inbred GOBs (Good Old Boys) who like their liquor and love their Neanderthal rationalizing. "They don't belong here. They should go back to where they belong," says one of the flanneled fools. But without specifying a location, it's hard to imagine what position is pissing these guys off so: the color of these dudes' skin or the fact that they have a Triptik from AAA. The reason for the fight is as stupid as the attempts at choreographing fisticuffs between the awkward actors, and the detail that our men of color throttle the ever loving bastard out of the redneck rowdies makes their later pleas of "we didn't do anything" seem like stupid self-denial. Assault and Battery may be nothing in "da hood" (the film keeps inferring a ghetto mentality that is never present in the actual dialogue or design), but somewhere in the upper regions of the Western hemisphere, it still manages to get the law in an uproar. And this is the final shaft of grain that busts the dromedary's hump. No cop, no matter how corrupt or mindlessly evil, would try to cover up the killing/beating of a federal officer by random denial. It just makes no sense. Even if he gets caught and charged, Congress will just pass a law making it easier to pummel your traffic-stop pullovers and be done with it.

You just know that writer/director/co-star Winslow I. Dunlop (who plays the lady killing, mustard-plastered penis hero Wilson here, naturally) had agenda-based visions of controversy and calling when he cobbled together this slop. He saw his story as being part urban nightmare and part fond recollections of childhood days in the yellow shimmer of the sun. Somewhere along the line he got his outlines confused and he ends up with a golden shower that whizzes its importance all over the audience's attention span before he breaks out the bias. This is the longest 89-minute movie ever made. Scientists are actually studying its time elongating properties so that multinational corporations can work underage foreign children more man-hours per day (after all, America needs more colorful bath booties). This is a three-act travesty that portions out its plot in the following manner: 50 minutes on back story and reminiscences, 15 minutes on diner destruction and dashing, and a scant 25 to address all the remaining plot threads and the hot button issues. Such a skewed scale means that whatever Dunlop wanted to say, he never left himself enough time to explore it. This is why Back Road Diner feels so thin and anemic. Winslow wanted to cram it full of social relevance. But he has a few more dick and Mama jokes to tell and a few scenes of sexual congress to insert (at the producers behest, actually) before he can call a supremacist a simp. Maybe if the focus had been merely on friendship, this film could have worked. As it stands, it's rebellion without a cause.

Boy oh boy does Troma do a bad job selling this film. Let's start with the insert, shall we? A direct quote from the plot description says this is "the chilling story of four friends from the mean streets (?) of the New York City ghetto (?) on a cross-country (?) trip…" Huh? Maybe something was missed along the way, but since when do four hard-working, educated, self-made men get labeled as being "from the ghetto"? And what mean streets are they talking about? The closest they come to being accosted on their home turf is when one of Wilson's women comes along to give him a healthy peck on the lips. And since when are these idiots crossing the lower 48? They make it very clear that they are traveling "up the East Coast," and since they left from New York, Maine may be where all this falderal takes place. But traversing four states is hardly seeing the USA. Hoping to make up for the hoodwinking, Troma does unleash a lot of extras. There is the original opening of the film, which recalls Spike Lee as it plays with continuity. We also get the original ending that does something similar. Lloyd Kaufman is along for another bad-pun-filled intro. Wisely, he turns over the majority of the pre-feature trivia about the picture to a bunch of naked chicks (gents everywhere salute you, Lloyd, my man), and there is the usual mess of Troma merchandising. There is even a full-length director's commentary by our man Winston, accompanied by fellow performer Andre M. Carrington (An-DRE. Get it?). This is a critical, comic narrative with Andre ridiculing Winston for aesthetic choices he's made and Mr. Dunlop making excuses. There is some actual insight offered and a lot of grandeur delusions, but mostly it's a couple of friends commenting on the fun they had making their first film.

Sound- and image-wise, this full screen feature is marginal at best. At 1.33:1, there is obvious grain, some pixelization, and a lot of transfer dirt. While occasionally the print cleans up and looks crisp, the picture usually gives away the low budget borders of the production. Aurally, this DVD is nothing special. The insert (again) champions music by Afrika Baambaataa and Kingsize. As a fan of the former, one may have to rethink their loyalty after hearing the sonic lethargy playing in the background most of the time. Even in Dolby Digital Stereo, the voices can get lost and the elements can mix into an uncomfortable atmosphere of amateurism. Indeed, almost all of Back Road Diner feels like someone's first effort at dealing with race baiting, police brutality, and long car trips and how all three affect our lives. But instead of asking "are we there yet?" one viewing of this tepid travelogue will have you wondering "is it over yet?"

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 68

Perp Profile

Studio: Troma
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Unrated
• Crime
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Director's Commentary
• Original Opening Scene
• Original Ending Sequence
• Trailers
• Troma Merchandising Goodies


• IMDb

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