24 March 2008 | mrtimlarabee
Adam Rifkin has a resume of films that could have been. They are inspired, ambitious, original, but at the same time almost incomplete. The Dark Backward encompasses all these qualities and more.
The film opens promising enough. Judd Nelson as Marty, looking something like Crispin Glover in Back to the Future, sweats on stage delivering some horrible stand up comedy. We then meet Gus, Marty's "friend" played with villainous comic timing by Bill Paxton. He urges Marty on to keep at the stand up.
The film plays off like a twisted moral anti fairy tale. It's the almost rags to riches story gone awry, as Nelson plays a horrible stand up comic who's only talent seems to be an extra appendage out of his back.
Rifkin's allegory is great and the ending is a spectacular take on show-business and what it truly takes to come to fame. But it's the middle that sort of fails. It's painful to watch. Such pains are great to see in some films when writers are able to spice it up with great dialogue or endearing characters, but most of it is just revolting schlock. Rifkin goes to great lengths to show how pathetic the lives of Gus and Marty are. It's a bit much.
The saving grace of the film is Bill Paxton. He makes some of the disgusting material work, going from pure disgust to some shocking laughs. Sadly, Paxton doesn't do much comedy. For better or worse, this film may be the reason why. He is unbelievable and the way he sinks into the material (and other things) makes the film almost work.
Adam Rifkin seems to be full of half baked ideas. They're good ideas and strange ones at that. His projects never seem to have a fullness to them, but they are full of strange inspired moments that are unlike any other film. I don't know if we'll ever see Rifkin's material reach their maximum potential as these ideas don't sell to the mainstream, but we should enjoy strange sick gems like the Dark Backward from time to time.