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FLASHBACK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Dennis Hopper, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Franco Amurri
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: None
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: September 24, 2002

“It takes more than going down to your local video store and renting Easy Rider to become a rebel.”

Film ***

You’ve gotta hand it to Dennis Hopper. To see an actor mostly remembered for his endless crazy characterizations (Blue Velvet, Apocalypse Now), it’s refreshing and bold on his behalf to take a step in the lighthearted direction, which the fish-out-of-water comedy Flashback certainly belongs. Other than say his supporting performance in Hoosiers, this is about the closest Hopper has come to playing somebody that is right in the head, though his character is stuck in a bit of a time warp.

Hopper stars as Huey Walker, once famous, now forgotten, who once got his picture on the cover of Life magazine as an "activist clown" but has now been in hiding for 20 years. Kiefer Sutherland is straight-arrow young FBI agent John Buckner, the man assigned to return him to Spokane, Washington, for trial.

What was Walker's crime? When Spiro T. Agnew was on a whistle-stop train through the Pacific Northwest in 1968, Walker uncoupled his railroad car - so when the train pulled out, Agnew was left waiting at the station. This was a gag good enough to make Walker a hero of the counterculture at the time, but now his time has long since passed and he is just another sad drifter, moving along every time anyone begins to suspect his true identity. Walker is finally betrayed to the FBI by an anonymous phone caller, and that's when Agent Buckner is called into play. His job is to accompany the aging hippie as he goes back home to face the music. And, of course, the two men take the train, which may allow history to repeat itself.

Walker begins to play psychological games with Buckner. He discovers the FBI man is only 26 years old and begins to taunt him about his conservative appearance and rigidly correct opinions. Before long Buckner has unwound enough to play a game of chess with his captive, and then Walker convinces him he has slipped a tab of acid into his mineral water. The FBI man begins to trip out, and the old hippie shaves his beard, cuts his hair and changes places with him - so that when they arrive at an intermediate stop, it's Walker who presents himself as the agent and the zonked-out Buckner who looks like the radical. The movie sounds its new note at about the time Maggie, an unreformed 1960s hippie played by Carol Kane, enters the picture. We learn some surprising things about Buckner, Walker begins to think some surprising thoughts about Maggie and there are moments when Flashback is actually touching.

Flashback is most reminiscent of the classic 1988 action comedy Midnight Run which pitted gruff bounty hunter Robert De Niro on soft-hearted money embezzler Charles Grodin. This movie isn’t at the level of that movie, but the script provides a neat little twist, with Walker advocating 60s-style freedoms in a new, clean society.

The best thing in the movie is the Hopper performance, which is quick and smart and oddly engaging. It's hard to play a character with charisma, since the charisma has to seem to come from the character and not from the actor, but Hopper does it here. He's convincing, and his dialogue actually sounds like the sorts of things an unrepentant hippie might say - not like the clichés someone might write for him. Credit is obviously due to the filmmakers, but Hopper puts the right spin on a difficult character and makes the movie special.

Video **

Paramount is mostly unpredictable in their transfers for some of their older films, and even though Flashback is only twelve years old, its image quality comes off as a mostly soft one. I don’t know if it’s the age of the film stock, or maybe it just wasn't remastered with improvements. Either way, it’s not a bad looking disc, as I have seen much, much worse. But given that Paramount has done fairly good with a few older pictures, the look of Flashback pales in comparison.

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 audio field is a bit better by comparison to the video job, though this is another film that is powered mostly by dialogue, which is delivered in a crisp, clear tone.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

Flashback provides a remarkably funny performance from Dennis Hopper, who spoofs his Easy Rider persona for this entertaining, if a bit formulaic comedy.