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FLASHBACK(director: Franco Amurri; screenwriter: David Loughery; cinematographer: Stefan Czapsky; editor: C. Timothy O’Meara; cast: Dennis Hopper (Huey Walker), Kiefer Sutherland (John Buckner), Carol Kane (Maggie), Cliff De Young (Sheriff Hightower), Paul Dooley (Donald R. Stark, FBI Director), Tom O’Brien (Phil Prager), Kathleen York (Sparkle), Richard Masur (Barry), Michael McKean (Hal); Runtime: 110; Paramount; 1990)
“It has its moments of reliving the past before it turns into a silly and unimportant film…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A comedy flavored by hippie nostalgia for the ’60s. It has its moments of reliving the past before it turns into a silly and unimportant film, which could only say things that are clichés. The film is enjoyable for Dennis Hopper’s comic performance as Huey Walker. He’s a nonstop talker and once famous protest movement jester who 20 years ago pulled a prank on Vice President Spiro Agnew, of disconnecting his train car while he was on a political whistle-stop speaking tour in the Northwest. This earned the publicity seeking protester a picture of himself on the cover of Life magazine dressed as a clown, but as the years rolled by he became a forgotten figure by the public. He is now held as an escaped felon, as an anonymous call told the FBI where to arrest him in San Francisco. John Buckner is the twenty-six-year-old uptight, duty-bound, yuppie, reactionary FBI agent who is asked by his boss, Mr. Stark (Dooley), to bring him by train to Spokane for a court date.

Before the film looses its grip on its subject matter and becomes too contrived as the opposing parties wind up on the same side — it had some sparkling scenes with the hippie conversing with the stone-faced FBI man. When Huey asks John what’s so good about President Reagan’s administration he is told that he straightened out the economy, to which Huey replies: “Yeah, he created two classes, the truly greedy and the truly needy.”

While cuffed on the train and playing chess with John, Huey tells him that he slipped LSD into his mineral water. John becomes panic stricken and asks the conductor to get him a doctor. He comes back with nurse Sparkle (York), but she’s really a hooker whom Huey gives money to have sex with the agent. The agent is now drunk from drinking tequila as a cure-all Huey recommends for coming down from a trip. Huey then shaves his beard, cuts his long hair, dons the agent’s dark blue suit, flashes his badge at the train stop in Marsden, Oregon, where he meets the Sheriff (Hightower) who poses with his disheveled and incapacitated prisoner. This is a scheduled stop arranged by the FBI in order to place the prisoner in the local jail while the agent grabs two hours sleep before getting back on the train.

Sheriff Hightower proceeds to beat the prisoner while he is in his custody, angered that this weirdo shows him no respect. Huey, still dressed as an FBI agent, goes into a local bar and meets two middle-aged men who tell him they were once hippies and admired Huey Walker. This briefly encourages Huey because he is feeling down that no one remembers him anymore, disgusted that the hippies are a forgotten breed in the 1980s. He also called his book agent to see if he could get his book published since it was Huey himself who called the FBI, arranging for the arrest as a publicity stunt for the book he wrote while on the run. Huey is told by the book agent that there is still not enough publicity, he’ll have to die before a book gets published.

Huey sympathizers are at the bar and are now members of the Establishment, Barry (Masur) and Hal (McKean). They get irritated that Huey, still posing as the FBI agent, is bragging he got Huey in his custody. To show they still have some rebel in their makeup they kidnap the FBI agent, calling the sheriff to tell him they want to exchange the FBI man for Huey. At this point the film breaks down into the absurd and the comedy comes in dribbles instead of gushes, as the running gag over mistaken identity comes to a brutal end.

The corrupt sheriff, who is running to be a congressman, is told by the boiling mad John Buckner, at the bridge, where Huey is unwittingly returned to him, that he is going to bring him up on charges of police brutality. The sheriff decides he better frame the FBI agent for abetting the prisoner in the escape, or else he is a doomed candidate. Buckner recognizes how capable of murder the sheriff is and escapes with Huey into the woods.

The story keeps getting sillier and sillier by the minute as it turns out John Buckner is not his real name (his real name is Free) and that his parents were hippies living in a nearby commune, where the agent takes Huey (If he grew up in a commune, how could he have been faked out to think that Huey dropped acid into his drink???). They are met there by the last remaining hippie at the commune, Maggie (Kane), a friend of Free’s parents. The film turns into a nostalgia museum piece of how the hippies lived back then and Buckner explains how he wanted to grow up drinking Coca-Cola instead of carrot juice, that he wanted to be the opposite of his parents so he fabricated a middle-class upbringing and joined the FBI.

By this time I was forgetting how much I enjoyed Hopper’s manic performance and wanted the film to end before it lost all its appeal for those who were hippies back then. There’s lots of ’60s music in the background to remember the past; such as, Dylan, Hendrix and Grace Slick. There is enough hippie memorabilia crammed into the story to give an aging hippie a temporary high. But the film, itself, was irrelevant.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”