In the next few weeks, the big movie studios will release their most ambitious films to battle for the attention of summer audiences. But already, three big-star productions, all of them comedies, are staking claims on moviegoers.
Back to the Future Part III represents a first for Hollywood: the shooting of two sequels back to back. Director Robert Zemeckis spent 10 months last year making two movies that continue the story of his 1985 hit, Back to the Future. And, in another tradition-defying move, the producers have released the two instalments only six months apart. That frenetic schedule seems only to have enhanced the comic timing of the latest—and, the producers claim, final—entry, Back to the Future Part III Fast-paced and funny, it has even more of the giddy charm that made the two earlier films enormously successful. And Canadian Michael J. Fox, 28, still shines as veteran time-traveller Marty McFly, even as he pushes the limits of credibility by continuing to play an adolescent.
Still recovering from an eye-opening trip to 2015 and a more recent, unpleasant faceoff with the town bully, Biff Tannen, in 1955, Marty and his science-loving friend Doc (Christopher Lloyd) want nothing more than to return to the present. But no sooner do they gear up Doc’s time-travelling DeLorean sports car than they stumble upon a tombstone that tells of Doc’s death by shooting in 1885. Doc, it seems, has done some commuting behind Marty’s back and has established a parallel existence in the Old West. With no time to waste, Marty climbs into the DeLorean, fastens his seat belt and heads off into the past.
Arriving in a pioneer version of their home town, Hill Valley, Marty finds that Doc, a blacksmith, has already incurred the wrath of one of Biff Tannen’s ancestors, a foulmouthed gunslinger nicknamed “Mad Dog.” Armed with a photograph of Doc’s tombstone, Marty convinces him to prepare to return to the future before Mad Dog snuffs him out. But there is one hitch: Clara (Mary Steenburgen), a pretty new schoolteacher, has captured Doc’s heart. Doc’s infatuation forces a frantic Marty to take on the role of scientist and perfect a plan for getting him and Doc back to the future.
On the way to a cliff-hanging climax, Fox delivers one time-warp gag after another. In one scene, the owner of a shooting gallery at the town festival asks Marty where he learned to shoot so straight. Referring to conveniencestore videogames, Marty drawls, “Seven-Eleven.” With fine acting by Fox and Lloyd, the movie is a first-rate comedy where love tri-
umphs over the petty demands of plausibility.
Cadillac Man stars Robin Williams as Joey O’Brien, a manic car salesman whose fast-lane life is going into overdrive. He is juggling two flaky mistresses, an ex-wife and an errant daughter while trying to repay a loan to the Mob. Meanwhile, in order to keep his job, Joey has to sell at least a dozen cars in 24 hours. Early on, Cadillac Man looks as if it is shaping up to be a breezy farce, a happy excuse for some of Williams’s high-octane humor.
But the film shifts gears suddenly when Larry (Tim Robbins), the jealous husband of
one of Joey’s co-workers, smashes through the window of the car showroom and takes everyone hostage. Waving a semi-automatic rifle, he demands to know who, as he puts it, is “doin’ Donna.” In fact, she has been having an affair with the boss’s weasel-like son, Jack. But when Jack fails to speak up, Joey, the consummate salesman, takes on his biggest sales pitch ever. In order to save the other hostages, he tries to convince Larry that he is Donna’s lover.
Joey’s transformation from slippery salesman to cool-headed hero stretches credibility, and there is a curious hollowness to Williams’s performance. The movie skids into the badtaste zone when Larry, portrayed by Robbins as a befuddled, hyperactive child, tells Joey that he is an unemployed mechanic who lost his libido when his wife became the breadwinner. Incredibly, that pathetic confession earns him
understanding from Joey. As Larry is transformed from a rifle-toting time bomb into just another lovable goof with a gun, it becomes clear that Joey O’Brien—and the audience— have been sold a bill of goods. The real con man in Cadillac Man is the scriptwriter.
Bird on a Wire, a featherweight comic thriller starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn, features some exceptionally good shots of a gas station, a helicopter and a motorcycle, among other things, exploding into photogenic fireballs. About the only thing that does not catch fire in the vapid, frantic exercise directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) is the movie itself. The central character is Rick (Gibson), a onetime petty criminal who testified against some bad guys 15 years ago. Since then, the authorities have provided him with a series of false identities. At the movie’s outset, he is a mechanic when he encounters his former girlfriend, a lawyer named Marianne (Hawn), who thought he was dead. Meanwhile, the villains, now on the loose, have picked up his trail.
Rick and Marianne become fugitives, tearing around on a variety of vehicles. He puts the
pedal to the metal while she hangs on and screams. Although she is supposed to be a career woman, Marianne looks like a spacedout tootsie in her short, flippy skirts and spike heels. Genial and sexy, Gibson fares better in the undemanding role of Rick. On the way to a ludicrous climax at a zoo, the story makes several dubious detours, including an encounter with a stereotypical gaggle of gay hairdressers. There is only one genuinely surprising moment. Rick and Marianne crash-land the crop duster after sending some pursuers in a helicopter down in flames. Safely landed, Rick says, “This thing still might blow up.” For once, it does not. Bird on a Wire has the unmistakable contours of a turkey.
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