Thursday 3 January 2019

Backtrace (USA 2018: Dir Brian A. Miller)

Action director Brian A. Miller has developed a bit of a reputation for serviceable, quick and dirty movies with a straight to streaming market in mind, and his latest, Backtrace, is no different.

Donovan Macdonald is the lone survivor of a 2011 bank heist gone wrong, where $20 million remains hidden and so far unrecovered. Unfortunately the only person who knows its location, Macdonald, has developed severe amnesia. Incarcerated in a secure facility since his arrest, the missing money and the identity of the heist shooter has become a cold case. But when Macdonald is sprung by a young inmate, Lucas, who offers to help him regain his memory, and the money, by injecting him a new, still under trial drug. Macdonald has no choice but to oblige. But once they have escaped from prison, and the serum starts bring back Macdonald's memory, the escapees find out that they're not the only ones interested in finding the loot.

Backtrace is one of those movies where all the money has been ploughed into the stars' salaries, leaving little else. Consequently it's a movie with famous faces which looks, if not cheap, well, a little mean. Luckily Miller knows what he's doing and makes the most of what's on offer, directed with a brisk pace throughout, although the advanced years of some of the cast - I'm amazed he wasn't tempted to call it 'Backbrace' - limit the physical action on display, any tension generated either through extensive but strangely inert gun battles, or cops and baddies stalking each other in a deserted cement factory. Having your external locations restricted to a small area of Georgia doesn't help - most of the last part of the movie is shot within constant sight of Savannah's Talmadge Memorial Bridge.

So where has the money gone? Sylvester Stallone for one, starring as police office Sykes. At over 70, Stallone has the whole 'shrug, a curl of the lip and a blank stare' thing down to a fine art, and happily lets people act round him while providing a solid centre to his much younger supporting cast, while standing in the police incident room looking at interconnected bits of string. Matthew Modine as Macdonald, at under 60 considerably more sprightly than his co-star, gets to deliver an over the top and frequently persuasive performance as the memory drug painfully courses through him, a performance not well served by a rather cliche ridden script, which requires him to deliver his lines in. A. Rather. Shatneresque. Way.

Ryan Guzman as Lucas is a creditable bit part actor who finds some nuances in his part, but best of all is fifty something Meadow Williams, as the former nurse turned money-grabber Erin, who gets to administer the syringe somewhat inanimately to Macdonald and then stand around doing little else. Gossip column fans may find some irony in the casting, recalling Ms Williams as the woman who made headlines back in 2016 after successfully fending off claims from the family of her deceased ex husband Gerald Kessler, that she forced a change in his will to receive an $800 million settlement following his death. 

Backtrace is released on Digital HD from 7th January 2019 and on DVD from 14th January 2019.

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