I think it’s about time that the publicity departments have a bit of a rethink about how they approach the advertising of some movies. Not so much with the big releases as they tend to use a number of approaches. It’s the small ones, the ones that tend to go straight to streaming and DVD having avoided the cinema screens. Backtrace is a prime example of how these releases are handled. There are two well-known actors in the movie and all the publicity materials have them front and centre. It’s always the same. Sylvester Stallone in front of Matthew Modine on the poster with both men looking slightly perturbed about something, hopefully to do with the film. The problem with that is that Stallone is only in about twenty minutes of the ninety minute run time which makes you wonder why he is first billed for any other reason than contractual promises.
The film opens in the aftermath of a successful bank heist. The three robbers, led by Mac (Matthew Modine), are meeting up with their contacts who are laundering the stolen cash. The exchange goes awry leaving two men dead and Mac shot in the head. His injury leads to extensive memory loss and for the next seven years he is held in a secure medical facility while he heals and perhaps remembers where he hid $20 million from the heist. Local police detective Sykes (Sylvester Stallone) is still on the case and regularly visits Mac to check on his progress. Mac is approached by some shady characters who break him out of the facility and administer an experimental drug that is intended to recover his lost memories and the location of the missing money.
Right from the start you can tell that this is a low budget film with limited ambitions. The initial meeting between Mac’s crew and their contacts should have been suspenseful and tense but due to the fact it is shot in a field in broad daylight there is very little spark to it. It didn’t help that the clunky dialogue hindered the progression of the action. With that behind us the film moves along in a similar way.
The film makers obviously struggled with how to visualise the effects of the experimental drug on the mind of Mac. So, instead of internalizing it they went for the shaky camera and going a bit blurry to represent the fact that the synapses in Mac’s head were starting to fire again. it makes it look like there is an earth tremor every time he remembers a bit more with everyone around him seemingly being affected by the shakiness not just Mac.
There is too much reliance on coincidence in the story and fairly obvious character development. Most of the second half of the movie is pushed on by Mac fortunately remembering something just as he is in the right place. Now, the story would have us believe that this is the point but it happens every couple of minutes and becomes tiresome. Along with this, the introduction of new characters during these sequences means that they will play a part in the recollections and are there only as plot points.
Matthew Modine tries his best with a character that is not developed in any way. There is little sense of the struggle he has endured during his seven year incarceration. This is not due to Modine’s acting abilities. He is an excellent actor but the real lack of character on the page hinders him. Stallone is no better served. He spends the majority of his short screen time in an office looking at a whiteboard. Until the final action scene he has little to do and then he is involved in the most convoluted and illogical set of events that it just finishes the film off in the only way it deserved. A special note to his make up artist though. Who knew that a burnt orange skin tone would be so appealing for a man in his seventies.
Backtrace is bad. Not good bad, just bad.
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