Film reviews

Backtrace – Film Review

Bouncing between franchise revival films and the horrific Escape Plan 2, Sylvester Stallone stars alongside Stranger Things’ Matthew Modine in Backtrace – more appropriately direct-to-the-rubbish-bin than direct-to-video.  

Backtrace opens during the car journey home after a robbery or heist of sorts, and there is a growing tension among a gang lead by Macdonald (Modine). Of course, it all kicks off after disagreements regarding the cuts of the robbery money, and Macdonald is the victim in a life-changing shooting – he now has amnesia and cannot remember any aspect of his crime.

Seven years later, and aging not one bit, Macdonald is ridiculously convinced to escape from a prison by a fellow inmate with the help from a worker, and endure an experimental drug which has an 80% chance of restoring his memories of where he hid the money… On the other side of the law there are the likes of Sykes and Franks, not a partnership, played minimally by Sylvester Stallone and Christopher McDonald (yes, Shooter McGavin) respectively.

Additionally, there is a secondary storyline of a conspiracy involving the organisation of which the money was stolen from, narratively driven by Franks, and attempted at being resolved by the traumatic flashbacks experienced by Macdonald. This secondary storyline or sub-plot even, is a mess, and poses no thrill or interest to viewers of Backtrace. Moralistically, Backtrace is somewhat criminally flawed. Its portrayal of Macdonald, a thief, as the hero is slightly suspicious, but the real madness is in the portrayals of Macdonald’s accomplices in escape, of whom have both deceived a mental health institute in order to financially better themselves through stolen money. Weird, weird, weird.

Continuing the flaw, Backtrace as a piece of filmmaking is suspect too. Having undergone the experimental drug treatment, Macdonald experiences flashbacks accompanied with slight spasms or just really bad migraines of sorts. When such reactionary traumas occur, Backtrace’s viewer is forced to observe a rumbling, vibrating image, even though these are not always POV shots, thus establishing a lack of logic – oh well, it’s direct-to-video sci-fi action after all. Adding to the hilariously bizarre also, during the third act, the way in which an array of Stallone’s sequences are shot suggest the actor to be filmed on his own, away from the other actors. An over-the-shoulder shot of a blurred leather jacket could have been worn by any tanned 70 year-old.

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As far as the acting from Backtrace’s star “performers” goes, despite the titles and credits suggesting, “and Matthew Modine”, Modine’s Macdonald is clearly the central character of Backtrace, so why is he billed in this way? Though Backtrace is considerably poor, Modine is a fine viewing – even if he looks like Andy Warhol…slightly. Modine’s fine acting, however, is nowhere near exceptional enough to elevate a poor direct-to-video film into one of which could be memorable in cult or critical status.  

Stallone’s participation is minimal, yet his acting, like Modine, is acceptably fine. The disappointment is that, like Modine’s Macdonald (and every other character in Backtrace), there is no establishment of anything interesting or entertaining about Stallone’s Sykes that could elevate Backtrace’s status. After receiving an Oscar nomination for Creed in 2016, it is currently a distressing notion to see Stallone make the occasional footstep within a range of very poor direct-to-video films, though these appearances do seem to be limited to supporting roles, of which should not do much damage to his brand.     

Ultimately, as expected, Backtrace has more failures than successes. To summarise, Backtrace is an overwhelming failure in its attempts at being either a mental health action film with adequate exposure/representation and a mysterious thriller presenting its answers within the intertwining of two storylines. It just doesn’t work. Had Backtrace, which naturally has a TV-movie look, been produced as a two-part TV feature, then there would have been much more storytelling room to establish the two intertwining storylines, and overall a much better product. 

Other than watching Backtrace out of curiosity, the predictable destiny for this film, is to be acquired in order to expand upon home video collections of Stallone films. Hopefully, director Brian A. Miller and writer Mike Maples can use Backtrace as a stepping stone towards better things.   

Backtrace is now available on DVD/BluRay.

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