Making movies is like making fudge: You can plan all you want, but the final result still owes a lot to luck. So it may be too much to ask even a natural-born talent like Robert Zemeckis to repeat the mixture of craft, confidence, and silliness that made the original Back to the Future such a sunny delight.

The same recipe didn’t work for ”Back to the Future Part II,” an overloaded vamp that rattled in your head like loose bolts. It’s clear now that BTTFII was a stalling maneuver, a project that Zemeckis had to do. Back to the Future Part III, on the other hand, let him relax and do what he wanted to do. Which was, first, to make a funny Western, and, second, to reveal Christopher Lloyd as the trilogy’s real star.

In the first film, Lloyd’s Emmett Brown was little more than a hyperactive goof on classic-movie mad doctors. By the series’ third installment, however, the character has developed into the story’s motor, the source of knowledge, common sense, and — thanks to twinkly Mary Steenburgen — romance. That’s not to criticize Michael J. Fox, who’s as likable as ever, but his Marty McFly has remained the same in all three movies. By now he’s basically playing Watson to Lloyd’s Sherlock.

Despite the big Western scenes, BTTFIII is the smallest of the films, the kind of light entertainment that’s almost perfect for the home screen. This film never catches the epic dizziness of the original — what could? — but it’s still excellent fudge. B+

Back to the Future Part III
  • Movie
  • 118 minutes