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Retroactive
(1997)
 

Director: Louis Moreau                             
Cast:
James Belushi, Kylie Travis, Shannon Whirry


All of us have been in an experience where our actions resulted in disaster to us and/or others, leaving us with mental and maybe physical pain. And we've all been witness to bad situations that, although we were not responsible for, made us feel bad all the same. Maybe I could have done something, we think. Or we might think: If I had known what would have happened, I would have done it differently and prevented a lot of grief. Retroactive not only deals with those two kind of situations, but also has an answer to those two thoughts that run through our head during those troubling times: Are you sure?

This is a movie made by the now pretty-much-dead Orion Pictures, and then never released. Another movie sharing this same fate was Behind Enemy Lines, a movie that well deserved its fate. Retroactive, however, didn't deserve such a fate. I'm not saying it's an excellent, or even a good picture - there are a number of problems very evident while watching the movie. On the other hand, the movie isn't boring for a second, and I was having a good time while watching it. The real problems with this movie come after you've watched it. I'll explain that later.

At a super collider facility in Texas, scientist Brian (Frank Whaley) rushes to complete his experiment before the government shuts the place down. He videotapes an experiment involving a rat in maze and time travel (don't worry, it makes sense when you see it.) He's warped back in time to the point where he first entered the lab (with memory of what's ahead not there, because it hasn't happened yet - if you know what I mean) , finds the videotape and plays it. From watching the experiment on tape, and running the rat through the maze through this time, he realizes that he did do a time experiment, and it worked. Now you see the first problem: How did the videotape, with the contents of the "old" time make its way into this "new" time?

Nearby at the same time, a lowlife named Frank (Belushi), accompanied by his girlfriend Rayanne (Whirry), make a deal to buy some high-tech computer chips. Driving off to make their fortune with the chips, they come across former Chicago police psychologist Karen (Travis), who has had an accident with her car. In a somewhat out of place gesture for Frank, he offers to drive Karen to the next gas station. Along the way, they are stopped for speeding by a cop. At the gas station, Frank is shown by the attendant photos of Rayanne with another man. Incensed, Frank races off before Karen can leave, and drives off road to a deserted location and murders Rayanne. Pursued by Frank, a terrified Karen runs away and makes her way into the facility - which is about to execute a second experiment. Karen then is accidentally transported twenty minutes back in time, just seconds after the point when she entered Frank's car.

So you're probably thinking that, with what she knows, she'll talk to the cop when they're stopped for speeding. That's what any smart and logical person would do - right? The car is stopped for speeding, Karen gets out to talk to the cop.....and to prevent the movie from being spoiled, I will reveal no more -  except to say that from that point on, Karen gets stuck in what seems to be an endless time loop, and learns in a very hard way that even knowing what will happen does not mean that a problem will be prevented.

Retroactive is a fairly fun movie - while you are watching it. Afterwards, questions will start to pop in you head hours and even days after you've finished watching it. I mentioned the problem about the videotape earlier, but there are even more problems. Here's another example: the initial experiment seemed to prove that living creatures who died between the time you warp back and the time in the "past" that you come back will "remember" what happened in that time that didn't happen because what happened then didn't happen because this new time is now the actual time. (Gah! I know how confusing that sounds. To be honest, I don't really understand it myself.) So then when characters die in the movie and come "back to life" when Karen goes back in time, why don't they remember what happened, including getting killed? Gah! I did it again. I don't want to even try to write another example, so I'll say that the problems that come out have to do with the whole time travel business. Movies with time travel, like Time After Time and The Terminator, managed to avoid paradoxes like this by keeping the time travel to a minimum, and keeping it as simple as possible. Not that they didn't have problems in this area, but they weren't made especially glaring. Retroactive, however, is centered around time travel itself, so the (many) problems that come up are especially glaring. The climax and ending, though less glaring than other problems in the movie,  manages both to be clever yet a little infuriating, because it was manufactured in the event just previous in a way that almost seems like cheating.

Performances are mixed. Whirry gives a very good performance playing a role that requires her to verbally and physically show that her character has suffered mental and physical abuse. Belushi tries  hard - very hard - to play a psychotic with a strange sense of humor. But when Belushi has a line like, "Women...can't live with them, can't blow their heads off," it just doesn't sound right. You hear too much of a smile in his voice, as if he's trying to assure the audience he's just kidding. Kudos, though, for Belushi agreeing to go through a role that's very physically punishing as it progresses.

Travis has, and does a good job, with a role that's rare in movies these days: a smart character. Her character makes mistakes in the movie, but these mistakes aren't really her fault - the choices were the most obvious and logical for the situation and what she knew. No one else could have been able to have made a better decision, even if her decision was wrong. One thing that's bugged me about many time travel movies is that the traveler takes so long to realize that he's not in his own time or dimension. It's A Wonderful Life (yeah, yeah, not really a time travel movie) always infuriated me with that damn George Bailey taking so bloody long to realize that he wasn't in his proper time. But Travis' character actually realizes after her first time travel experience that she has traveled back in time after only a few seconds. So maybe writers are starting to get smart. The next things I'll ask them to do is to write characters who say, "It's a U.F.O.!" when seeing a U.F.O., instead of "What's that?" And write police captain characters who actually know what a ninja is.

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See also: Slipstream, Road Ends, Lifeform

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