Call them "cult classics." "Guilty pleasures." "Comfort movies." We all have a mental rolodex of flicks that may not be terribly popular but, for one reason or another, they resonate in a very special way. Maybe you saw it at the right moment. Maybe you just see gold where everyone else sees feces. Whatever the case, these are the special favorites that you keep stashed away for sick days. Here are some of ours.
The time circuits are on, the flux capacitor is fluxing and I'm gonna take today's Sick Day Stash on a journey through time with the help of "Back to the Future Part III." The movie may be the weakest entry in this venerable trilogy but it's by no means a weak movie. Dare I say it's 1.21 gigawatts of marvelous?
There's none of the holographic flash of "Back to the Future II," with its sleek vision of the future (Hoverboards! Self-lacing Nikes! Pepsi Perfect!). Instead, we get a send-up of a Western that is the most broadly comedic film in the franchise. Shame on you if you haven't already committed the story to memory: after seriously screwing up the space-time continuum during the first two movies, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) ends up stuck in 1955, while his buddy Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is stranded in 1885. A couple convenient plot points later, Marty arrives in the Old West to rescue Doc and bring this whole time-hopping saga to a close. This is why I love it so dearly...
The Moron Factor
The first rule of sequels is characters can learn absolutely nothing from previous films, a dictum to which Doc and Marty vigilantly adhere. As Marty gets ready to travel to 1885, they take zero precautionary measures in case the Delorean is damaged during the trip. Did they not spend the last two movies trying to fix this infernal time machine?
"I put gas in the tank," Doc says, as if that should take care of everything. They're about as prepared for the dangers of time travel as Emile Hirsch was for Alaska in "Into the Wild." Marty isn't in the Old West more than five seconds before trouble arrives in the form of quaintly stereotypical Native Americans slinging arrows. The Delorean gets wrecked—and voilà!—100 minutes of plot objective is found: how do we, yet again, get back to the future?
Doc Gets His
By "Back to the Future III," Marty's character arc has largely come to an end: he got the girl and his family went from pitiable to enviable. Now it's time for our lovable mad scientist to flesh out his wild-eyed persona with a shot at love with the lovely schoolteacher Clara (Mary Steenburgen). That's how much I've come to care about Doc: I want him to live happily ever after. When he spies Clara at a town festival, he seems to be thinking, "I love her, space-time immolating consequences be damned!" After all these years as a man of science, Doc has finally achieved what's been missing in his life: he's become a man. Tear, shed.
Biff! Bam! Pop!
If Doc is the hero, Buford 'Mad Dog' Tannen is the scene-stealing star. Thomas F. Wilson's various portraits of the Tannen family, from 1955's Biff to 2015's Griff, are excellent stuff. But Buford is the best of the bunch. In 1885, there are no rules, and Mad Dog is a man unleashed: a rotten-toothed, tobacco-chewing, catchphrase-botching, crazy-eyed killa with a grab bag of insults pulled from the Big Ol' Book of Wild West Lingo. In a matter of minutes after we first meet Mad Dog, he's called Marty "duded-up, egg-sucking gutter trash" and fired bullets at his feet ("Dance!" he demands, prompting a witty nod to Michael Jackson as Marty busts into the Moonwalk). What does Buford get for his trouble in the end? As usual, a mouthful of dung and the satisfyingly expected line, "Manure! I hate manure!"
Shame on the Oscar folks for not kicking a Best Original Score nomination Alan Silvestri's way. The "Back to the Future III" music builds on Silvestri's original, iconic score and even outdoes it, with a brassy, swashbuckling anthem. Super fantastic bonus points to ZZ Top for dressing up in Wild West gear and playing an acoustic, bluegrassy version of "Doubleback" during the town festival.
Forget Everything We Told You
I could go on and on about so much in "Back to the Future III," but let's just say all ends well: Doc stays with his lady in 1885, Marty gets safely back to 1985 and the time machine is destroyed—just as Doc has wished, because as he's said over and over for three films now, time travel has caused nothing but disaster and he should have never built the machine in the first place.
And then who shows up in 1985? In an enormous flying train/time machine? In broad daylight? Doc and Clara! Why? He had to come back for his dog. Sure this flies in the face of every shred of common sense we've assembled since the first picture, but who cares? Doc gets to say a final goodbye and deliver a pat, trilogy-summarizing maxim for us all and, honestly, I'm all ears.
"Your future is whatever you make, so make it a good one!" he announces.
By the way, did I mention Flea's in this movie?!