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'Back to the Future II'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 24, 1989


Robert Zemeckis
Michael J. Fox;
Christopher Lloyd;
Lea Thompson;
Thomas F. Wilson;
Elizabeth Shue;
Charles Fleischer
Parental guidance suggested

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IN "BACK to the Future Part II," there's a scene, set in the year 2015, in which our familiar hero Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) encounters an '80s theme bar pounding with Michael Jackson music, walled with multiscreens and featuring hovering videoscreen faces of Ronald Reagan and the Ayatollah Khomeini. It's meant to be a cute thing. So why is it so disconcerting? Maybe because this cleverly plotted, but commercially overloaded sequel belongs right in that depressingly familiar bar.

"Future II" bombards you with more brand-name advertising than three hours of prime-time TV could muster, although repeat filmmakers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis put a humorous twist on everything. Among the collection of futuristic fad-gadgets (airborne skateboards, clothes that blow-dry themselves), look for a hydratable mini-pizza from a well-known chain, a new improved (and M.J. Fox-sponsored) soft drink and an equally famous running shoe that tightens itself ("I want a pair of those shoes," said a moviegoer at a sneak screening).

In keeping with this cultural-retread decade that our calendars promise will soon go away, "Future II" is exhaustive with self-reference. Gale and Zemeckis give you not only the sequel but the original too. Fox (the Beaver of the '80s) and nutty professor Christopher Lloyd not only must return to the 1955 prom night of "Future I" (it has to do with chasing archenemy Biff Tanen), but also avoid their previous time-traveling selves -- the ones still trying to get young-Mom (Lea Thompson) and Dad (Crispin Glover -- seen only in flashback) together.

This time-tripping caper, to be followed by a third "Future" next summer, is the kind of streamlined, style-over-substance fare that will undoubtedly do well at the box office; Gale and Zemeckis have outdone themselves in terms of time-space shenanigans.

But they have gone for narrative gymnastics rather than anything touching. "Future I," the smash hit of 1985, hit some timeless, almost classical human chords that resonated beyond its snappy plotline: Fox had to return to the past, make his mother fall in love with his nerdy father, and keep her from falling in love with her son-to-be. The suspense turned on character whims, not just whizz-kid storyboarding.

Here, the suspense consists of a cosmic chore: Fox and Lloyd (in their trusty DeLorean time machine) must retrieve a significant document from the past, in order to prevent some terrible events in the future, including danger to Fox's present and future family, a rise to power for nemesis Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) and -- possibly the one event that almost justifies making this movie -- preventing a fifth presidential term for Richard Nixon.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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