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Back to Back
(1996)
 

Director: Roger Nygard                
Cast:
Michael Rooker, Ryo Ishibashi, Bobcat Goldthwait


It's without doubt that Back to Back would not have existed without the creation of Pulp Fiction, which was released two years earlier. An at-face-value look at both of these movie brings up some very obvious similarities: location shooting at the seedier parts of L.A., several completely different story threads interwoven together, flawed and unlikable characters as "heroes", memorable death scenes, graphic violence, and, of course, sequences with "clever" and/or "hip" dialogue.

Though all that material and influence is in Back to Back, it's with much relief, especially with numerous Tarantino rip-offs already lining the video shelves, that the movie ends up using this material in a fashion that makes the movie more original. There's hip dialogue, but it doesn't obsess about pop culture, like Tarantino. The different story threads are actually more closely woven together, eventually coming together to make one story. And Back to Back's heart isn't that of a drama with a few splashes of action; essentially, it is an action-drama, with plenty of drama, but doesn't forget to put emphasis on the action when it comes around.

It's told in a more linear manner as well, instead of jumping back and forth in time. The movie makes clear who are the "good" guys, and makes no effort to disguise who the bad guys are, even that one typical character found in action movies who, whether a friend or a bully of the hero, is obviously working for the bad guys in secret. The movie still has a few tricks up its sleeve, though; in the beginning, the characters weave their lives in and out of the presence of each other, and do different activities when away from each other. It seems at first that hot-headed cop Bob (Rooker, from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) and Japanese hitman Koji (Ishibashi), both in different kinds of trouble, don't have anything in common. We think the usual thing will happen if they do meet, but the movie pulls out another surprise at this point, and gives out a few more along the way. I enjoyed not knowing what was going to happen to these two, and since not knowing their activities, either together or apart, is the best way to enjoy the movie, I'm not going to spoil it for you - movies like this work best the less you know at the beginning. Rooker once again gives a professional performance, though since his character is so hot-headed and quick to temper, he's saddled with the very difficult task of making such a character likable enough. This is the first time I've seen Japanese actor Ishibashi, and I feel he has real screen presence, even if his character is more sided to the stereotypical "cool" attitude of Yakuza in movies. His English also is overall well done, especially since he seems to be speaking it in a way that shows he understands what he's saying.

The most memorable performance in the movie, however, is Goldthwait's. Though only appearing for about ten minutes, he's given third billing in the actor credits. (Disturbingly, on the cover of the Canadian video box for this movie, the box touts MICHAEL ROOKER and BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT, with no mention of Ishibashi, even though there's a picture of his face.) Playing yet another nutso role, (though thankfully lowering the whine he puts in many of his characters), he provides a link between Bob and Koji, as a bank robber with an AK-47 with limitless ammo, which he puts to good use in such a short time. (His last scene, by the way, will undoubtedly demand several rewinds, plus the use of slow motion, from many viewers.) Goldthwait's action scenes, and the others in the movie, are well done, with plenty of blanks and filled-to-the-brim squibs used by the special effects crew. The look of the movie is also superior, and could have easily played on theater screens. One thing did annoy me in the movie, and that was the use of "wipes", to cut from one scene to another. Not only is it done in an obvious and show-off fashion, but it is used countless times throughout the course of the movie. Some other edits done by dissolves were done badly enough to be almost as annoying, and I don't think I needed to see multiple shots and dissolves of a close-up of a fat Italian mobster's face. Especially since many of these shots focus on his mouth when he's eating a big dish of spaghetti.

These distractions take Back to Back down to a pretty entertaining twist on a formula, instead of being yet another failed attempt to duplicate the wild, hip, and talkative style of Pulp Fiction. In fact, by the end of the movie, it becomes its own, instead of an imitation. Wannabe directors should stop watching Pulp Fiction, and use this film as inspiration, so if they resort to using a formula, they'll at least get a notion to try to put a new spin, or a personal mark on it. Though because many wannabe directors go by the saying, "Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism," we'd probably get endless copies of Back to Back.

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See also: For A Few Lousy Dollars, Skeletons, The Ambassador

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