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Review: 'Backtrace' loses more than its memory

Posted Tuesday, February 19, 2019 at 12:25 PM Central

by John Couture

In some ways, I admire Mac, the lead character of Backtrace. Played by the resurgent Matthew Modine, Mac is shot in the head early on in the film and suffers from amnesia. If it wasn't so drastic, I'd shoot myself in the head if only to never have to remember the 88 minutes that I spent watching Backtrace.

Fine, maybe shooting myself in the head is a bit drastic, but Backtrace is the type of movie that you cheer for. The trailer looks good and there are some recognizable stars in it, so you give it a chance. Much like that sketchy burrito from that food truck on a late Saturday night, this decision comes back to haunt you.

The gist of the plot involves Mac and his gang stealing $20 million and hiding their share from the other co-conspirators. They are not happy with the decision and a shootout leads to everyone's death, save for Mac. No, he's "gifted" with amnesia, but a new gang of would-be criminals plans a complicated jailbreak and experimental drug regimen that will jolt Mac's shaky memory.

I will say that sole highlight in the film for me was Matthew Modine's performance. Fresh off his comeback role in the second season of Stranger Things, the Full Metal Jacket star is easily the scene-stealer in this film, but that's not really high praise.

The bar for this film was set pretty low, like on the ground, and yet most of the cast still can't overcome it. The main culprit here is the script which is completely riddled with silly clich├ęs that probably need to be banned from action films. Also, there are several oddities that just don't make sense (houses don't have titles) and one can only hope that it was shoddy improvisation and not lazy research by the screenwriter.

But Modine makes the most of his material and crafts a character that is believable if not likable given the odd soap opera standard of his predicament. The one downer for me in his scenes though was the constant shaky cam effect. The flashback scenes were already given a bleached palette to signify their past timeline, so why did the filmmakers feel it was necessary to illicit migraines in their viewers? I suppose the shaky aspect was supposed to connote the pain that Mac experiences in reliving these lost memories, but the end result could have easily been accomplished in exposition, which they do as well.

In true B-movie, direct-to-video fashion, action icons from yesteryear are cast solely to get a paycheck and to put their mugs on the box art. Here it's Sylvester Stallone as a small-town detective who is somehow both still investigating the bank robbery and the prison escape. Usual funnyman Christopher McDonald gives a rare dramatic performance as an FBI agent the comes in to trade barbs with Sly's character and to provide an obvious plot twist that I'm still not sure the film entirely earns.

Overall, the film was a lackluster effort that had an interesting kernel of a story. Unfortunately, the bad script and lousy filmmaking choices muddled the waters and the high-priced talent, with the exception of Modine, simply went through the motions without raising any concerns. The result is a highly uneven film that was rather boring and seemingly overstayed its welcome despite the concise run time under and an hour and a half.

Your mileage may vary here, but there are far better options out there in this genre that I feel would be more worth your time. Backtrace is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.