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New Release Review (DVD) - BACKTRACE

backtrace review
An amnesiac thief attempts to find the money he stashed from a past heist.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Brian A. Miller

Starring: Ryan Guzman, Sylvester Stallone, Matthew Modine, Meadow Williams

backtrace dvd

So, this is where old movie stars go to die… If you weren’t there then maybe it is difficult to appreciate the star magnitude of Sylvester Stallone in his '80s pomp; every little boy in school playgrounds pulling their lips down to drawl Sly’s catchphrases - "Don’t push meee!," "ADRIAAANN" - serious critics wondering what the rip-roaring success of Rocky meant for the New Hollywood and a character simply embodied by the man becoming a byword for magnificently excessive military might. But apparently it happened: and why not? At his greatest, Stallone imbued his cartoon macho persona with genuine pathos. His incredible face was utterly riveting in itself (his impeachable performance in First Blood is, after all, largely silent) and the Stallone charisma was as powerful as one of those big massive guns which Rambo totes on the cover to First Blood 2. Problem is, like those proud RPG-7s, there is limited use for such a powerful weapon, and Stallone’s (extensive) filmography reads like a roll call of fallen soldiers, save for the odd success predicated upon perfectly calibrated nostalgia. The pictures got bigger: it was Sly, a munchkin of a man at 5ft odd, who got smaller ☹.

backtrace review

I appreciate a grafter though, and I’ve always been a huge fan. So, with each Stallone release (Escape Plan 2: Hades) I watch in gleeful hope (Grudge Match) that some of the old magic will be recaptured, which it usually is to some extent (Creed)… But not in Backtrace. Never in Backtrace. Let’s get the plot (as it is) out of the way: some central casting thugs, led by Matthew Modine (who sports an expression of exhausted resignation throughout the entire movie) do over an armoured car and most of them get slotted, except for their beleaguered boss who gets shot and wanders about for a bit in some woods before executing the most protracted and quite astonishing death scene ever committed to film: as if Modine (an alumni of Kubrick, no less) is low-key auditioning for the role of a particularly hammy zombie in The Walking Dead. And this 10-minute (perhaps) sequence isn’t even for real: within a few moments it’s revealed that Modine didn’t die at all and is instead banged up in the big house seven years later, with no recollection of what happened or, indeed, that he is a tea leaf. He has ‘amnesia’. Then some of his old crew infiltrate the prison, get him on an experimental drug and try to break him out in order to find where Modine (whose character name is honestly Donovan MacDonald) has stashed the goods.

backtrace review

Where’s Sly in all this then? Good question. Sly is an FBI man, and working on the case: a role that requires him to simply look a bit world weary at crime scenes and pontificate about insurance fraud in front of a dog-eared incident board while the camera whirls about in a hopeless attempt to make proceedings halfway interesting, for almost the entire film. The framing makes the most of that legendary face though, and inadvertently exposes the high cost of age by highlighting Stallone’s blatant hair plugs and badly drawn on eyebrows, that wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command all but ruined. If you’re into that sort of thing, I suppose there is a so-bad-it's-funny element to Backtrace, like why, for instance, is the action located seven years after the initial robbery, when it would make more sense for it to be a few days, especially since everyone seems to be wearing the same clothes they were at the start. But I’m a bit too long in the tooth these days for laughing at films like this. Scoffing at Stallone’s acting choices? What about your life choices choosing to watch stuff like this? That’s the question you’ll be asking yourself as Backtrace shuffles across your screen.

backtrace review

Where did it all go wrong, you’ll mourn, as one scene rolls into another with the absence of anything approaching sympathy for Donovan MacDonald (he’s a thief who kills for money?), nor interest in whether Sly gets his man. A film where the central concept - a forgetful robber - is neither here nor there (he is either going to remember or not, and it is pretty likely that he will), and which empties the charisma of its co-star by not giving him anything to do. Who cares, you’ll think, and the unrelenting lassitude generated by the film may seep into real life too: Backtrace functioning as a memento mori, an unwelcome reminder that our time is short, that what goes up must come crashing back down, and that lazy movies like Backtrace will somehow always exist to give genre cinema a bad name.

Backtrace is on Digital HD January 7th and DVD January 14th.


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