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Review: Back to the Future Part III

It ain’t only the DeLorean that’s out of gas.

Back to the Future Part III
Photo: Universal Pictures

The first of the two simultaneously-filmed Back to the Future sequels wasn’t exactly well-received, but at least it stuck to (or caustically undermined) what worked about the original: cheeky Oedipus reversals, culture shock gags, and Möbius strip scenarios juxtaposed against kinetically forward plot momentum. Back to the Future Part III, in which Marty McFly and Doc Brown get lost in the Old West, can only summon a last-act burst of superfluously choreographed action, which is hardly any way to run a railroad, especially since it’s clear by this point in the series that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale meant for Part II and Part III to function as a revival of action serials. By sending our matinee heroes back into Hill Valley circa 1885, they’re essentially sending them to the very outskirts of the prehistory of cinema. Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope wasn’t patented until 1893, but early experiments in motion pictures date back to the moment Biff’s great-great-great-great-grandpunk Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen’s face takes a pratfall into a rickshaw filled with grass-fed cow shit. Thus, Marty manages to avoid swift death in a high noon duel in the sun by using everything he’s learned from the movies (hiding a bulletproof vest under his poncho and calling himself Clint Eastwood); in theory, his cliché-savvy antics might be taken as the inciting incident that informs every filmed storyline that follows in his time-skewing wake. Unfortunately, the meta references end there, and the sophistication of the first installment’s narrative mechanisms and the freewheeling (if moronic) energy of the second are as hopelessly lost as Marty and Doc in a world without unleaded. Worse than that, the teasing time paradoxery is reversed in Doc’s final speech, in which he sermonizes about the future not being written so live life the best you can; science-fiction literally reverts to neo-creationism. In other words, it ain’t only the DeLorean that’s out of gas.

Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr., Pat Buttram, Elisabeth Shue Director: Robert Zemeckis Screenwriter: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 118 min Rating: PG Year: 1990 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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