Written by youthful director Adam Rifkin while still a teen, THE DARK BACKWARD is certainly a triumph of individual will over the bottom-line realities of filmmaking. One can only imagine the reaction of the average studio executive to a screenplay that includes such scenes as a featured
character molesting a corpse in a garbage dump, or smearing himself with dog food and inviting three grotesquely fat women to lick it from his body. But though it's heartening to aspiring filmmakers everywhere that THE DARK BACKWARD was made, the film itself is quite dreadful.
Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) is a garbageman who aspires to be a stand-up comedian. His buddy Gus (Bill Paxton) encourages his ambitions, even though the routines Marty performs at a local bar are an unmitigated disaster. Marty's miserable life changes overnight, when he awakens one morning with a
lump on his back that quickly grows into a third arm. Marty's girlfriend Rosarita (Lara Flynn Boyle) leaves him, but slick agent Jackie Chrome (Wayne Newton) sees the exploitation potential in the situation. He plans to send Marty and Gus, who has insinuated himself into Marty's act, to Hollywood.
Marty's fortunes turn again when his third arm vanishes even more quickly than it had appeared. Chrome abandons him and Gus decamps for Hollywood, but the experience has made Marty a better comedian: when he does his first post-third-arm show, people laugh.
One can see how THE DARK BACKWARD must have sounded terribly funny and clever. Incongruities abound; the casting alone is an exercise in perversity. Heartthrob Judd Nelson as a sweaty, bespectacled nerd. Consummately tacky and shallow entertainer Wayne Newton playing consummately tacky and
shallow talent scout Jackie Chrome. "Twin Peaks" sex symbol Lara Flynn Boyle as Rosarita. Rob Lowe in an almost unrecognizable cameo as shark-like agent Dirk Delta. James Caan in a bit part as Dr. Scurvy, and sexy Claudia Christian (THE HIDDEN, CLEAN AND SOBER) as his nurse. The casting is
certainly unusual, but all it makes the viewer do is wonder why these actors ever agreed to appear in such a juvenile project. Bill Paxton (ALIENS, NEAR DARK) manages to make Gus the most vibrant character in the film, but his performance can hardly be called subtle.
THE DARK BACKWARD's sensibilities are hopelessly adolescent. It's all about feeling alienated (like a freak, as the literal-minded screenplay would have it), exploited and left out of all the good parts of life. The film's look is stylized--it seems to take place in some dystopian parallel
universe--and the story is couched in fairy-tale terms: Marty is the victim of an ill-considered wish--to be somebody special--who learns some important lessons about life from his experience. The film's sense of humor is relentlessly smutty. Rifkin attempts to wring laughs from gross food,
breasts, garbage and sex with fat women. He is largely unsuccessful.
Rifkin is hardly the only director ever to have been done in by a screenplay he wrote while still a callow youth--James Cameron's unsuccessful THE ABYSS was also based on something he wrote while still in high school. The lesson is clearly that no matter how clever you are as a teenager, it's
best to move on to being a clever adult. Despite its low budget, THE DARK BACKWARD is effectively photographed, and the elaborate, cluttered set design shows a great deal of inventiveness. (Sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Written by youthful director Adam Rifkin while still a teen, THE DARK BACKWARD is certainly a triumph of individual will over the bottom-line realities of filmmaking. One can only imagine the reaction of the average studio executive to a screenplay that in… (more)