How can the Disney company make a successful teen comedy out of a story about a murdered student who comes back from the grave and must eat human flesh to survive? Watch MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK and keep wondering.
Johnny Dingle (Andrew Lowery) is a high-schooler in the pleasant little town of Fairview who has harbored a crush on beautiful Missy McCloud (Traci Lind) nearly all of his life. One day, he gets an idea of how to heroically attract her attention: he'll have his friend Eddie (Danny Zorn) pretend
to be a robber sticking up a convenience store where Missy works, and then arrive to "save the day." But the plan backfires when a real thief arrives, takes Eddie's mask, and holds up the place. The unknowing Johnny makes a stand, but winds up fatally shot. With his dying breath, he asks Missy to
the upcoming prom, and the distraught girl says yes just as he passes away.
Johnny's far from gone for good. And once he climbs from his grave, now a zombie but none the worse for wear, no one seems especially surprised, from the cemetery keeper (Bob Dishy) to his parents (Edward Herrmann and Mary Beth Hurt). Eddie and Missy are somewhat more startled when Johnny turns
up in school, and he's subjected to taunts from his fellow students. But he continues to romantically pursue Missy, who ultimately agrees to go out with him and finds herself attracted to him--even if, during a tentative makeout session, his ear comes off in her mouth.
As Johnny learns from an old local woman, Maggie (Cloris Leachman), who supposedly "once dated a zombie," he will ultimately start to deteriorate unless he consumes human flesh. Johnny, not surprisingly, finds the idea repulsive, but after a confrontation with bullying jock Chuck Bronski (Philip
S. Hoffman) ends in the latter's death, he can't help but take a couple of bites. His parents are more than happy to oblige, though, and Mrs. Dingle even kidnaps Chuck's little brother for Johnny to eat and defends her son when the boy's angry father, Big Chuck (Paul Dooley) shows up. Johnny seeks
help from local Dr. Bronson (Austin Pendleton), but he's only interested in the possibilities of using the boy's body parts as the basis for an eternal youth potion.
Despite all the adults and teenagers who have turned against him, Johnny persists and finally winds up taking Missy to the prom. But there, he succumbs to true death and finds himself at a heavenly tribunal. The judge in charge (Paxton Whitehead) discovers that a mistake has been made; it wasn't
really Johnny's time to die after all. The boy winds up back at the convenience store, where events replay just as they did before, complete with Johnny being shot. But this time, the bullet is stopped by a locket he's wearing, one that he had always intended as a special gift for Missy, and
Johnny survives to win Missy's heart.
Given the homogenized nature of so many Disney comedies of late, it's rather a surprise to find them taking on such a potentially dark-humored project as MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK--and indeed, the company has squeezed just about all the gruesome possibilities out of this movie. The result is an
intermittently amusing but terminally bland comedy, whose best moments deal with the way the resuscitated Johnny's fellow students treat him like just another oddball to be ostracized ("Eew, it's that dead boy"). Yet the movie never explains why everyone so easily accepts the teen zombie in their
midst, and the sense of comic reality is thrown off as a result. Early drafts of Dean Lorey's script, originally titled JOHNNY ZOMBIE, included a subplot about a colony of the undead dwelling in the cemetery--further accentuating the idea of zombies as a shunned minority--but these got lost during
Disney's development process.
Perhaps due to prerelease cutting, the story never develops any particular line, emphasizing confrontational scenes and unnecessary subplots at the expense of character and plot development. Making matters worse is the work of actor-turned-director Bob Balaban, whose pacing, timing, and staging
are all hopeless. Balaban once directed the effective black-comic horror film PARENTS, which also dealt with cannibalism, but here proves to have no aptitude at all for lighter humor; lines that sound as if they should be funny hang ineffectually in the air before thudding to the ground. His only
real contribution appears to have been lining up a strong supporting cast of actor friends, but Herrmann, Hurt, Dooley, et al. can't do much under such negligible supervision. The likable young leads come off better, including the funny Zorn from THIS IS MY LIFE, and give the film what charm it
Perhaps the surest sign of the uninspired approach that haunts MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK is the fact that the title song, though heavily used in the movie's trailers and TV spots, is never even played during the film. Perhaps someone realized that it doesn't make sense anyway, since Johnny doesn't
become Missy's true boyfriend until the film's very end. (Violence, sexual situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: How can the Disney company make a successful teen comedy out of a story about a murdered student who comes back from the grave and must eat human flesh to survive? Watch MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK and keep wondering. Johnny Dingle (Andrew Lowery) is a high-sch… (more)