Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Back to Back aka American Yakuza 2 (1996)

Back to Back


It’s time to clean house.

Movie Review:

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Bob Malone (Michael Rooker) is having a bad day. His house is being repossessed by the bank, the ATM ate his card, and he’s caught up in a Yakuza war against the mafia. But let’s take a step back for a second.

We start with two Japanese business types arriving at the airport, one with a suitcase (Koji, Ryo Ishibashi of Rogue Assassin and The Grudge) and one obsessed with Elvis (Hideo, Kô Takasugi). Taking a limo to the stripper bar -this is at the 3 minute mark, folks - they have jovial conversation about the weight of Elvis’ coffin being inconsistent to that with a body inside it before taking their leave to an Italian restaurant. If this sounds like a Quentin Tarantino film already, strap yourself in because it’s a bumpy ride from here.

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Crossing back to Bob Malone, fed up with his day he takes it out on an inconsiderate driver who parked his car in. It turns out this driver is the getaway driver for a bank robbery that has just gone down and now Malone is in the middle of a shootout - which ultimately leads to his arrest. One of the robbers escapes the bloodshed, and that just happens to be Bobcat Goldthwait (Police Academy 2, 3 and 4’s Zed!) hamming up an exceptional performance as a deranged robber - known only as Psycho - with a bomb strapped to his chest. Worlds collide as Psycho takes his last stand at the restaurant the Japanese guys are dining in, but his failure results in the loss of a hand and eventually an explosive death. 

Lieutenant Dussecq (John Laughlin of The Rock) on the scene arrests Koji, though he brutally escapes interrogation and during his escape kidnaps both Malone and his fed-up bailer daughter Chelsea (played by the lovely Danielle Harris from Halloween 4, Urban Legend and Stallone’s Daylight). Arriving back at Malone’s house, the tables quickly turn as both Malone and Koji have to defend themselves from the attacking Italian restaurant Mafia who are after the suitcase! You see how it’s all connected now people?

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Wow, what a ride this is. The first two acts share a lot with Reservoir Dogs in the direction and the switching between character scenes. There’s even fades and wipes! Every few minutes there’s a car chase or a shoot-out and very little in the way of crummy talking scenes. Michael Rooker brings his A-game as the completely-over-it ex cop in the style of John McClane, and the buddy angle with Koji works well. As you’d expect, the two form a bond over bloodshed and similar goals. We do lose sight of Hideo as he chauffeurs the briefcase whilst wounded and makes his way back to the stripper club. That’s about the only character who felt a little wasted. The third and final act is a journey to a classic action showdown, and is played far more straight than the opening acts.

Back to Back aka American Yakuza 2 shares its name with American Yakuza but the similarities end there; although Ryo Ishibashi is in both films (albeit as different characters). Director Roger Nygard is not a name I was familiar with and checking his biography I can see why. Back to Back is literally his only genre film (if you discount the documentary Trekkies he helmed). That is unfortunate as he shows a flair for action direction here. The film was shot for cable TV and it definitely shows this, but the action is kinetic, the gunplay extensive and the car crashes numerous.

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There are plenty of “hey, who’s that guy?” moments during the film to look out for: Vincent Schiavelli’s distinctive face shows up with the mafia fellas, Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth from Trancers aka Future Cop) makes an appearance and Leland Orser as the loony wheelchair beggar. These glorified cameos add an extra touch of fun to the film.

This feels just like a good mid 90’s Nu Image or PM Entertainment style action film does; think Executive Target for an appropriate comparison. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a rocking soundtrack, plenty of interesting characters and enough machine gun action to satisfy the readers of a site called Explosive Action. Back to Back is wall to wall fun!

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Bobcat Goldthwait’s hilarious but short-lived Psycho is worth the price of entry alone. You’d easily mistake the film for a comedy when he’s on screen.