The rule of thumb for making a good movie is to start with a good screenplay and build the movie around that. “Backflash” has a good screenplay and cast, but a terrible director. Phil Jones, the director of “Backflash,” doesn’t know what he’s doing; he knows that he has co-written a good script, has a talented cast at his disposal, but is sadly unable to put all these factors together. As a result, “Backflash” is only average, with possibilities of being so much more.
The woman at the center of “Backflash” is Jennifer Esposito (“Dracula 2000”), who plays the improbably named Harley Dakota, a tough as nails drifter recently released from a 2-year stint in prison. In her pre-prison life, Harley helped the Arizona faction of the mob launder dirty money, until one day she decides to steal from them and ends up in prison for her troubles. Now out of prison, Harley sets about to reclaim $2 million in stolen mob money that she has hidden away in a safe deposit box. Enter Ray (Robert Patrick), a video storeowner who picks up a hitchhiking Harley and finds himself in a world of trouble.
First off, the chemistry between Esposito and Patrick is quite good. That aspect of the movie is really the only thing worth watching “Backflash” for. Patrick’s Ray is a mixture of Forrest Gump simpleness and happy-go-lucky Midwesterner. To Patrick’s credit, we’re never sure if Ray is just slightly “off” when it comes to dealing with people, or if he’s just humoring them. I’ve never seen Patrick done better work than in “Backflash,” and to say that he’s really grown as an actor is an understatement. Esposito is also good and delivers a credible performance as the strong woman who develops a soft spot for the easygoing Ray.
As mentioned, Phil Jones’ direction is not up to par. His handling of the film’s only big action sequence — a shootout at a cabin at night — is at best lazy and incoherent and at worst shamefully pathetic. The look of “Backflash” is also lacking, and the movie (unfortunately) manages to give out an aura of low budget in its look, feel, and movement in the very first frame. Besides Jones’ below-average direction, the camerawork by Maximo Munzi is static and unimpressive, which leaves me to wonder if any of these guys have ever shot a movie before.
The screenplay, on the other hand, is oftentimes clever. Jennifer Farrell and Lillian Jackson shares co-writing credit with director Jones, and the script offers some very good dialogue as well as personalities for its small cast. The always delightful Colm Meaney plays the Arizona mob boss who can’t bear to leave the frozen confines of his office, and treats every day as if it was Christmas. Melissa Joan Hart sheds her “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” persona to play a giddy high school dropout who somehow gets a job as the town’s coroner thanks to her mob ties.
Jones uses flashbacks to fill in gaps that the movie develops along the way, a common gimmick in post-Tarantino cinema. The flashbacks work well, and is probably the only directorial talent shown by the cumbersome Jones, although I’m not sure if the credit should go to him or the film’s editor.
Truth be told, “Backflash” is better than it is, mostly thanks to the fine casting of the charming Esposito and the understated Patrick. The script has many quirky moments and doesn’t try too hard, and yet always manages to maintain a constant level of entertainment. If anything, “Backflash” is an example of good material rising above the presence of a (at best) mediocre director.
Philip J. Jones (director) / Philip J. Jones (screenplay)
CAST: Robert Patrick …. Ray
Jennifer Esposito …. Harley
Melissa Joan Hart …. C.J.
Kenneth Moskow …. Jimmy