Backtrack (1990) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

The Robbins recipe:  Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Silent Lamb Girl.

Bad movie, but Jodie is often naked or in skimpy clothing, so it's worth a look for that reason.

Jodie Foster is kind of the Joe DiMaggio of acting, in the sense that both have an unchallengeable aura far beyond anything actually related to their mere mortal achievements.

To hear DiMaggio's proponents describe him, you'd think he was faster down the line than Mantle, a better fielder than Mays, and a better hitter than Ted Williams and Babe Ruth combined. DiMaggio was, of course, a great ballplayer, but nowhere near as great as the legend that has sprung up about him. Between ages 27 and 32, a baseball player's theoretical prime, he averaged 22 homers and 102 RBI's per year, and hit .303 over that span. During his famous 56 game streak, he didn't hit as well as Williams hit for that entire season.

He stole only 30 bases in his life, and fielded only .978. His lifetime batting average was .325. Per 550 at bats, he averaged 29 homers.

Fine numbers, but I'll bet you thought he was much better than that, right? Everybody does.

And the same is true of Jodie Foster. She made Backtrack during the absolute zenith of her acting career, 1988-1994. That period started with her best actress Oscar for The Accused and concluded with her nomination for Nell. In the middle was her signature role in Silence of the Lambs, which won her yet another Oscar. There you go, three best actress nominations in six years.

This film was made in that period, and offers no evidence to support either her script judgment or her acting abilities. It's a mediocre film, with often illogical, even incomprehensible plot twists, and poor character development. Jodie is not especially good in it, and is even responsible for some of the problems. She isn't awful, but she shows none of the spark and imagination that you'd expect if you hired the best young actress in the world, which many people considered her at the time.

The movie irritated me, frankly. Dennis Hopper and Jodie play a hit man and his intended victim who end up in love despite their obvious incompatibility, and end up fleeing from the mob and the FBI and heaven knows who else. 

Here are some especially irritating moments:

  • Jodie is calling Hopper a rapist after he offers her a choice - die or give her life to him. OK, fair enough, but there is one scene where he asks her to put on some garter belts and similar paraphernalia, and she is humiliated, and still in her "you rapist" mode.  She is dressing in front of him, at his insistence, but obviously making ironic comments and still trying to trick him ("maybe it would be better if I tied you up, baby"). The scene cuts to someplace else, and when we rejoin Foster and Hopper, she is punching him playfully in the morning, and telling him to put down his newspaper and come back to bed. HUH? Was there something in between? How did that happen? Their relationship is the point of the movie, yet we don't see why it develops.

  • The very highest ranking law enforcement guys apparently spend their lives in a trailer listening to phone taps, and only work on one case at a time. Hopper makes a call to arrange a meeting with the mobster who wants him dead. The FBI is listening at that very moment, including Fred Ward, the senior guy on the case, and they immediately shout stuff like "let's roll", and head to the rendezvous point. Fred obviously has nothing better to do than to listen to the phone calls of a low-level mobster 24/7.

  • Jodie confesses to a weakness for pink Hostess Snowballs. Hopper goes to a little rinky-dink country convenience store, and comes back with several hundred two-packs. This kind of store probably wouldn't carry Snowballs. The odds are against it, because there are many alternate snack cake suppliers, and most stores would not have this in their assortment. But even if they did carry them, I'm going to guess that the highest volume c-store in the world would not have that many on hand. In fact, I'll offer you a bet. Name anyplace in your city that sells food. Name Sam's Club or the highest-volume Safeway, I don't care. I'll bet that you could not find several hundred two-packs of pink Snowballs in any location which you select. 

  • At one point, Hopper and Jodie manage to escape some mobsters by driving up an old dead-end road to where a helicopter is waiting conveniently. The chopper is not manned or guarded, and starts right up for Hopper. He also happens to know how to pilot one. That is one versatile hit man. But that's not what irritated me. That came next. Hopper and Foster fly away from the thugs, and another chopper is on their tail within seconds, filled with mob guys wearing black suits and fedoras, firing machine guns. No exaggeration. It's Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man revisited, and taken to the skies! Of course, Hopper out-maneuvers the other pilot and tricks him into crashing into a butte.

  • In fact, the finale is even sillier than the ending of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Hopper and Foster agree to meet the mob at a refinery, where they are wearing some of those metallic-looking fire suits. They set some fires, escape in their suits, and within a short time, the entire refinery explodes. Cops circle the place, credits roll. A couple minutes later, during the credits, we see Hopper and Foster sailing somewhere, and he is playing a saxophone. Run the last credits over a black screen.

And this is the fully-restored director's cut! Imagine how irritating the theatrical release must have been, because the studio cut out 21 minutes of footage, and wouldn't release it in the USA at all. Hopper disowned it, and it ended up being credited to the ubiquitous "Alan Smithee".


A Jodie-watcher's delight

Hopper should give lessons in selecting shower doors for nude shower scenes, because, while they distort enough to
show a shower scene, they don't really hide much.  Then Jodie opens the shower door and we get an unrestricted view of her breasts. 

She also shows breasts and buns in a long shot that is very dark. Additionally, she pokes through lingerie in several scenes, and, even in the opening scene, shows panties when her skirt blows up on the side of the freeway.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Backtrack (1989)  never had a us release, and never had a theatrical release under that name. There was a 98 minute European release called Catchfire which producer/director/star Dennis Hopper disowned, and was credited to the officially anonymous Alan Smithee. Critics have it at 2 1/2 stars, and blame Hopper's direction for most of the problems. I didn't find that to be the case. I agree at 2 1/2 stars - watchable but not exceptional, but think the problem was Foster's performance in the female lead. I adored her in Silence of the Lambs, but didn't think she ever developed the character in her own mind in this film, and she was just Jodie, looking good and reciting lines. While the plot was not hard to follow, Jodie's motivation for her character's actions and changes was never conveyed. I adored Hopper's performance, and those of most of the supporting cast.

Jodie plays Anne Benton, a conceptual artist (scrolling signs) nearing fame and popularity who witnesses a mob killing. After bungling a first attempt on her life, the mob hires the king of the hit men, Milo (Hopper). Anne is offered police protection, but is unimpressed when she notices that one of the two who tried to kill her is a cop. She takes it on the lamb, and Hopper, by learning everything he can about her, monitoring her friends mail, checking on birth certificate re-issues, etc promises to find and whack her. His first break comes when he recognizes one of her sign slogans in a magazine ad for lipstick. A team of thousands try to get her, but she eludes them.

Next time Milo finds her, it is in a small New Mexico town. Not only doesn't he kill her, but he kills another hit man who came along for the glory against Milo's wishes. Milo gives Anne a choice: become his property, or die. She chooses life. The entire Mafia, and all of law enforcement is looking for her, but Hopper protects her. Eventually, she becomes his willing companion.

My problems with the Anne character:

1) Her boyfriend is killed in the first failed attempt on her life (however he is very visibly breathing in a fairly long scene after being shot dozens of times) and she doesn't seem to mind much. Why doesn't this bother her? 
(Scoop's answer: Hey, it was Charlie Sheen!)

2) She shows near contempt for the gallery owner who is giving her her big break. Why? Later in the film, she has a fight with Milo, saying that she has to be around art and culture. Why then doesn't she care about her big opening?

3) What made a person who seems to have nothing but scorn for other people decide to trust and love her kidnapper?

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features except a still gallery

I suppose these problems could have been corrected with writing and direction, but they all involve Anne's motivation as a character. The good news is exposure. The most famous scene of the film from a nudity standpoint is a shower scene. Hopper should give lessons in selecting shower doors for nude shower scenes, because, while they distort enough to show a shower scene, they don't really hide much. 

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.4. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop rates this film a D, though I love Jodie as much as the rest of you. I figure that IMDb viewers rate it 5.4 based solely on seeing Jodie nude and skimpy and lookin' good. I applaud that. Rent the crappy movie and make sure you have a working FF button. Jodie provides plenty of eye appeal throughout the entire stinkin' thing. Tuna says: this is an ok genre picture that could have been even better, but the exposure somewhat makes up for the problems, so I will give it a C+.

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