(director/writer: Dennis Hopper; screenwriters: from a story by Rachel Kronstadt Mann/Anne Louise Baradach; cinematographer: Edward Lachman; editor: Wendy Phifer Mate; cast: Dennis Hopper (Milo), Jodie Foster (Anne Benton), Dean Stockwell (John Luponi), Vincent Price (Mr. Lino Avoca), John Turturro (Pinella), Fred Ward (Pauling), Joe Pesci (Leo Carelli); Charlie Sheen (Bob), Bob Dylan (Artist), Tony Sirico (Greek), Julie Adams (Martha); Runtime: 105; Vestron Pictures; 1989)
“A terrific cast does not necessarily make for a good pic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A terrific cast does not necessarily make for a good pic. This is an uneven Mafia chiller about a female conceptual artist, Anne (Foster), who witnesses a murder by mobsters and refuses to go into the FBI ‘Witness Protection Program,’ choosing instead to go on the run from both the cops and the hoods. A hit man, Milo (Hopper), refuses to kill her after obsessively falling in love. The film becomes ridiculous by the time that unbelievable romance on the run takes over the story line and by its finale the story becomes a hopeless mess. Though it’s entertaining, as it takes us into the modern commercial art world and shows how pretentious a modern artist can be, lets us eyeball Jodie Foster in the nude, and has Dennis Hopper do his usual eccentric character number–this time as a hit man who wants to be loved and play the sax like Charlie Parker.
When Anne has a tire blowout on the highway and no one stops for her, she goes down a back road and witnesses a Mafia hit. When she reports it to the police, they tell her she’ll be needed as a witness against a big-time gangster. At home, two hitmen come into her apartment and kill by mistake her boyfriend Bob. When told she’ll have to be protected by the FBI and have a secret identity, she eludes the cops and hides out on her own by getting a job for an ad agency. After two months undetected, the Mafia hit man hired after the fiasco in Anne’s apartment, Milo, finds her by getting to know everything he can about her and gets her location when he sees a lipstick ad that is the same as one of her language-based works of art she does on flashing neon signs. The police learn where she’s at by the wiretap they run of the Mafia boss’ phone, Leo Carelli (Pesci). But she eludes both the hit man and the cops when located and rents a unique artist retreat in New Mexico.
The Mafia kingpin, Lino Avoca (Price), is getting impatient, so Leo sends Pinella (Turturro) to check Milo out. Milo has discovered her in New Mexico by intercepting a revealing tape about her inner self she sends to her girlfriend Martha. When Pinella discovers Milo is more interested in watching her take showers than killing her, Milo kills Pinella for interferring with his work. Milo will then give Anne a choice: I finish you now, or I let you live and you belong to me. Soon the two unlikely lovers find a way to relate to each other, as Milo pines: I gave up a career for you. After the couple on-the-run escape a Mafia hit in a Mexican restaurant, they begin to bond closer.
Originally made for European release under the title Catchfire, Backtrack wasn’t given a general distribution until 1991. Hopper, unsatisfied with the way the film was cut, wanted his name removed. But in 1991 the film was given back some cut film footage and released on cable. I would have hated to see the film when it made less sense than it did now.
REVIEWED ON 9/12/2001 GRADE: C