Friday, November 30, 2012

Back to Back (1996)

All I heard of “Back to Back” was that it was a made-for-TV (HBO, I believe) action flick starring Michael Rooker. I was immediately sold! Then I read that Ryo Ishibashi would play his partner (so to speak), his daughter to be played by the gorgeous Danielle Harris, John Laughlin would be his superior, Bobcat Goldthwait would play a minor villain and both Tim Thomerson and Fred Willard would have cameos. If that’s not enough to convince you to watch this film, I don’t know what will.

If you need further persuasion, it’s a pretty damn good action flick! The first twenty minutes alone is a heart pumping adrenaline rush! You’ve got Bobcat Goldthwait playing a bank robber dubbed Psycho whose men are all taken out by Bob Malone (Michael Rooker). He doesn’t unload bullets into them because they robbed the bank. He does so because they parked him into the street and, after already having a disastrous day, snapped and beat the holy hell out of the getaway driver (by locking his head into the back window, no less)!

We learn that he’s a recently divorced cop who’s had his badge taken away due to severe anger issues. He started his morning off with a brief shouting match with his daughter, Chelsea (Danielle Harris), then had his house repossessed by the bank (in a cameo by Fred Willard). When he went to take out twenty dollars from the ATM, he was denied and his card was confiscated. Enter Psycho and his goons and you’ve got a pissed off Malone going postal on some baddies.

While he disposes of all of the goons, Psycho slips away. Before he can chase after him, his former boss, Dussecq (John Laughlin), intervenes and reluctantly arrests him. Meanwhile, Psycho is driving downtown with the police hot on his trails. Spouting out one liners (my favorite being how the town isn’t safe anymore) and spraying bullets out of his back windshield, he eventually makes his way into a restaurant that just so happens to be owned by a local mobster.

That’s the least of his worries. Koji (Ryo Ishibashi) and Hideo (Kô Takasugi) are waiting there to finish off the mobster and effectively conclude their mission. Psycho puts a dent in their plans, so they put a dent in his face. Another shootout occurs and Hideo gets shot in the process. Koji disposes of Goldthwait in an explosive manner, but is taken in by Dussecq for questioning. Hideo makes his getaway and wanders around town aimlessly bleeding from the gut and prophesizing that Elvis Presley is still alive (it works, trust me). There’s a hysterical spot where he knocks out an annoying homeless man posing as a cripple that may possibly be the highlight of the film!

Koji doesn’t have time to put up with Dussecq, so he breaks his nose and escapes the interrogation room by shooting out the one-sided mirror and crashing through it. He takes Bob and Chelsea hostage as they are conveniently leaving the premises at the same time. A brief run-in with Chelsea earlier gave Koji the slip in. It’s clear from this point that he doesn’t want to harm them, but will if necessary.

He takes them back to their house and stakes out. The film slows down a bit here as Robert Nygard develops the characters. He mainly just has Bob and Chelsea shouting at one another which grows wearisome. The heart to heart she has with Koji works decently, but it feels a bit too forced (from the script perspective, not the acting). We also learn of a rat in the police force (I won’t spoil who, but it’s pretty easy to uncover) and get a brief cameo from Tim Thomerson. Oh, and Vincent Schiavelli appears briefly as the mob boss’ slimy assistant. Good times!

It does show that this is a made-for-television film in the editing department. The scene transitions appear straight from an early edition of Windows Movie Maker and some of the camera cuts are jarring. The reason I believe this aired on HBO is that the film’s pacing is relatively good. Most TV movies have to abide by commercial breaks, forcing the film to have a more episodic nature. That’s not the case here which helps it flow nicer.

Don’t let the made-for-TV tag scare you, though. The action is fierce and rampant! There are multiple shootouts, car chases, destruction of property and even some blood (mainly from a nasty torture method that involves nails). The finale takes place in a restaurant under renovations and Nygard gets good use out of the setting. He also uses the cast well to his advantage!

Let me repeat myself from the first paragraph. “Back to Back” stars Michael Rooker, Ryo Ishibashi, Danielle Harris, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Laughlin, Tim Thomerson, Vincent Schiavelli and Fred Willard. That right there is a genre fans wet dream! It’s easy to forgive some of the film’s shortcomings thanks to the dream cast and solid action. It’s possible some of my issues were the side effect of premature ejaculation. This is an action film with Michael Rooker as the lead, after all. That’s too much awesome for me to contain myself!

MVT: I’m going to give it to Rooker, as I love the man and he’s in fine form here. Ryo Ishibashi gives him a run for his money. He holds his own in both the action department and in commanding the screen.

Make or Break: The opening action sequence. It has Bobcat Goldthwait looking like a sewage worker mowing down cops and spouting one-liners (and not acting like Zed from the “Police Academy” movies). What’s not to love?

Final Score: 7.5/10


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