Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Matthew Modine, and Ryan Guzman
Director: Brian A. Miller
92 minutes (15) 2018
Signature DVD Region 2
Review by Jeff Young
Seven years after a robbery gone awry, the lone survivor of a shoot-out is snuck out of a secure hospital. The patient, Macdonald (Matthew Modine), decides on the spot to take a red pill as the first stage of testing an experimental drug to fix his memory problems. A former nurse, Erin (Meadow Williams), administers this clearly illicit treatment, reviving a lost history with tortuous scenes of mental quakes and camera shakes. Stallone plays the top detective, Sykes, unexcitedly musing about professionalism and sharpness of conduct in the field.
Proficient director Brian Miller - the maker of Officer Down (2013), headlined by Stephen Dorff; sci-fi adventure Vice (2015), featuring Thomas Jane; and Reprisal (2018), starring Bruce Willis - churns out routine or undistinguished movies, centred on cops or crooks, usually following redemptive story-arcs. Moral quandaries are explored to highlight each busy crossfire of blatant corruption and extra-legal themes. Miller often champions world-views with narrative flashbacks that convolute procedural tales usually lacking sufficient heroes or wholly competent villains.
A somewhat grungy authenticity elevates this otherwise lacklustre picture from apparent production-line origins (perhaps it was shot while Miller’s favourite lead Willis was away for his annual weekender holiday?). As a violent crime drama, Backtrace is made more worthwhile by its vaguely sci-fi mystery elements of the amnesia thriller formula, where recall forms the basis for identity and persona, in addition to uncovering a lost but never forgotten, and highly desirable prize.
In this particular case, it’s the secret location of the robbery’s reportedly buried loot. Backtrace concerns a $20-million treasure map stashed in the back of Macdonald’s head. The puzzle is painstakingly unravelled with much of the agony suffered by Macdonald, as Modine registers the character’s traumatic experiences and his intense struggle to fully remember what’s happened to him. A guns-blazing finale is no guarantee of thrilling quality, but Backtrace does not fail in that respect.