Playback (Michael A. Nickels, 2012)
Playback has the dubious distinction of being the lowest-grossing domestically-released American film of 2012 (it made a grand total of $252, playing on one screen for a single week). It’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen—in fact, it’s only the third-worst film I’ve seen today (and you never know, it might get worse after this!)—but that doesn’t mean I would suggest you get within ten feet of a streaming copy of it.
We open in 1994, with a young chap named Harlan Diehl (Dogman‘s Luke Bonczyk) killing his entire family save his sister’s baby before being shot by police. Fast-forward fifteen years, and a group of high-school students, working on a project for their journalism class, are investigating the Diehl murders, headed by Julian Miller (Purgatory House‘s Johnny Pacar) and his girlfriend Riley (The Master‘s Ambyr Childers). Julian enlists his stoner buddy Quinn (Black Swan‘s Toby Hemingway) to “acquire” some information that only the local police have access to; Quinn has an in to the police department in the form of Detective Frank Lyons (Christian Slater), an ephebophilic detective who keeps Quinn rolling in dough—or illegally-swiped evidence on the Harlan Diehl case, it would seem—in exchange for hidden-camera nudie-cutie flicks of the local hot high school chicks. The problem is, when Quinn gets his hands on the tapes, he finds that Harlan Diehl’s legacy extends beyond the grave…
If you haven’t figured out within ten minutes of this movie starting what happened to the baby from the opening sequence, you haven’t seen enough horror movies. That sort of predictability, unfortunately, plagues this entire production. Once you know all the principal high school students, you should be able to pause the film, sit down, and sketch out a list of who’s going to die when. And you know what? You’d probably be close enough to right to be extremely disappointed in this movie. And you have every right to be; Nickles, a character actor (probably best remembered for portraying Jim Morrison in Wayne’s World 2) who abandoned the screen to go behind the camera, does absolutely nothing to meddle with the formula. This is depressing, because given some of the angles this movie adopts (it would probably contain a host of minor spoilers to go into any detail, but I will say that my favorite character in the film, Wylie, portrayed by Galaxy Quest‘s Darryl “Chill” Mitchell, is a video-store clerk and would-be film historian whom Julian finds himself consulting more and more as they get closer to uncovering the mystery of Harlan Diehl’s motivations), Nickels had ample opportunity to bend some corners, kick some sandcastles, what have you. And he took none of them.
It’s not necessarily a bad movie, but it is an extremely frustrating one, boring, predictable, and full of potential that will forever go unrealized. If you do end up watching it, well, you have my condolences. *
BONUS VIDEO! For those of you who don’t recognize the caption on the poster.