Just under the wire: The most bizarre movie botch of 1991 television. Dennis Hopper directs and stars Backtrack, a goofball thriller made a couple of years ago for theatrical release but now a Showtime premiere. Anyone tuning in to see an amusing stinker will be surprised: Hopper has made a humorless, incoherent mess with a first-rate cast, including Jodie Foster, Fred Ward, Quantum Leap‘s Dean Stockwell, John Turturro (Barton Fink), and an unbilled Joe Pesci. Bob Dylan even shows up for two mumbled lines as a sculptor who hacks shapes out of wood with a chain saw.

Foster plays a conceptual artist who witnesses a mob murder. Hoods led by Vincent Price (in a tiny role) hire a hit man to murder her. The killer is played by Hopper, who does a bad Brando-Godfather impersonation throughout. A police unit overseen by Ward is also after Foster — they want her to testify against the mobsters and to place her in a witness-protection program. The script, by Rachel Kronstadt-Mann and Ann Louis Bardach, makes no sense. Foster’s character is a very successful gallery artist, yet the police see no problem in asking her to change her name and occupation. Once Hopper gets hold of her, he tells Foster he’s fallen in love with her. He’s not planning to kill her, he’s going to kidnap her — and she thinks he’s cute enough to agree to his plan!

Anyone who saw Hopper’s last directorial effort, Hot Spot, knows he likes his movies steamy; in Backtrack he dresses Foster in skimpy slips and garter belts as often as possible, but the two don’t generate any heat. The entire movie seems to be an excuse for Hopper to indulge his well-publicized interest in art — the conceptual artworks by Foster’s character are actually the creations of chic real-life artist Jenny Holzer, and Hopper drags the movie from Seattle to Taos, N.M., just to get in a few references to Georgia O’Keeffe. If there were any slyness or suspense in Backtrack, you could forgive it its self-indulgence; as it is, the movie is just annoying. D

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