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Backfire!
(1995)
 

Director: A. Dean Bell                        
Cast:
Josh Mosby, Kathy Ireland, Robert Mitchum


Special guest review!

By Michael Sullivan
 

Amongst my circle of friends (well, to be honest, it's more of a circle of people who barely tolerate me), I'm know as a bit of an overcritical bastard. I've usually taken this as their little joke, a little good natured ribbing. But after seeing "friends" egg my car and stuff dog crap in my mailbox, it got me to thinking: Am I overcritical? Am I a bastard? After much soul-searching, I will only write positive things about the films I see, no matter how awful. I will also initiate a confusing rating system. Well, here we go.....

Backfire!

Rating: Squinktastic!

Batton down the comedy hatches, it's going to be a wacky ride! In the tradition of Spy Hard and Wrongfully Accused comes another wham-bam, criss-cross, bumper car ride of outrageous parody! In this "madcap" spoof of Ron Howard's Backdraft Kathy Ireland has pretty eyes, jokes pop out of mouseholes, and Dorf will make you laugh at his clownish antics! (Please note that Dorf does not appear in this movie.) This is truly a film that was made for people to watch!

On second thought...

Backfire! is a limp Airplane! knockoff that's just a tiny fraction in a long line of limp Airplane! knockoffs. The film's only saving grace is that it doesn't try to cater to Leslie Nielsen's deluded notion that's he's a comedian. It does, however, feature pained veteran actors and some soon to be familiar faces in embarrassing roles, and enough lame sight gags and listless movie references to make at least 4 more crappy parody films. (Calling all producers! Check out these surefire direct-to-video ideas! The Blair Matrix Project, American Booby, Oh Big Barton, Art Thou In Fargo, and The Wizard Of Tattoine Or: How To Get Ahead In Hollywood By Kissing A Bloated, Untalented Director's Flannel Wearing Ass In The Guise Of Parody!)

Like most parody films, the plot is pretty much non-existent. But there is a semblance of a plot about a world very different from ours, in which gender roles are reversed and women are firefighters. In this alternate dimension, a young boy named Jeremy desperately wants to grow up to be a firewoman. But his dreams are somewhat squelched after he accidentally blows up his mother. Flash-forward to "The day before yesterday" (ha frigging ha). Jeremy (Josh Mosby) is now all grown up, and is training at the academy so he can fight fires alongside his sister Lt. Jackson (Mary McCormick). Jackson objects to her brother joining the fire house and to the increasingly suspicious fires that just so happen to occur around toilets. The mysterious fires and the city's lack of fire hydrants seem to be a sinister plot courtesy the mannish and egotistical Herzzoner The Mayor (Laine Valentino) and the ubiquitous Most Evil Man (Telly Savalas). Will Jeremy gain respect from his fellow firewomen and steal his old girlfriend Jessica (Kathy Ireland) away from the mayor? Will the Most Evil Man's secret be revealed? Will I take this tape and smash it with a sledgehammer?

This is one unfunny and mediocre film. The level of comedy never seems to rise above gags like a character saying, "Drop and give me twenty!", and not surprisingly, the cast drops and gives away twenty dollars. Or how about Kathy Ireland saying she doesn't have to stand for this, so she sits down? Or how about Jeremy being literally shown the ropes? Yes, this film is full of other great gags like the ones I mentioned above. Plus, there's timely swipes at the World Trade Center bombing, Yugos, Dan Quayle, Beavis & Butthead, and just about anything else that was current or popular during the mid '90s.

But that's not all. We also get film parodies. But not just any film parodies - these are parodies minus the most important ingredient: PARODY! That's right, scenes from well-known (and not so well-known) films and TV shows are replayed right in front of us, and I guess we're supposed to laugh at third-rate actors performing scenes from The Shining, Star Wars, and Cliffhanger, just because they are. But I will give them credit for the references to Joel Sh*tmaker's Falling Down and to Mystery Science Theater 3000, just because you rarely ever see these two things mocked (even though they really aren't being mocked in this.)

It's really no surprise that the script is terrible; after all, it was written by A. Dean Bell, who also gave the world swill like The Littlest Patriot. But the acting in this movie has to be both the most painful and depressing aspects. How bad is the cast? Well, let's put it this way - Kathy Ireland gives the film's best performance (frightening, no?) Mosby, McCormick (who went on to play Alison Stern in Private Parts), and Valentino all seem to be competing on who can play their role in the most awkward, wooden, and monotone way possible. Veteran character actor Telly Savalas desperately tries to give a good performance, but he looks like he's in pain, and most of his scenes are performed while sitting down. (Sadly, Telly died shortly after the film was made, due to throat cancer.)

But the most embarrassing performance is from Robert Mitchum as Fire Marshall Mark Marshall. A marshall in the cowboy sense, Mitchum mumbles his lines, wears a bra, wrestles himself to the floor, and tries to look down Kathy Ireland's dress. Mitcum's far, far away from classics like The Night Of The Hunter, and it makes you a little queasy seeing him in a role that's usually reserved for Leslie Nielsen. But it's a blast seeing future Oz/Sopranos star Edie Falco as Jeremy's doomed mother, and check out a pre-Third Rock From The Sun Kirsten Johnston as a bartender. Shelly Winters also shows up as "The Good Lieutenant" (GROAN.) Winters actually puts in an amusing cameo, and appears to be having fun. Probably because it was a step up from films like Tentacles and Poor Pretty Eddie (a film where she strips.)

Parody films have become predictable and tiresome over the past couple of years. I mean, how many jokes similar to "...and don't call me Shirley!" can people take before apathy sets in. Jeez, even the parodies of movie clichés have become clichés themselves! Characters hearing musical stings and the soundtrack turning out to be someone playing a musical instrument onscreen, characters posing and smiling around dead bodies while crime photographers take their pictures, split screen phone gags etc. As parody films go, this is one barren mess that even has the balls to have a character slip on a banana peel. But to be honest, you could do a hell of a lot worse. Ever see the Corey Feldman-directed Busted, or National Lampoon's Men In White? Wish I could say I didn't.

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See also: Love At Stake, Night Patrol, When Nature Calls

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