Backtrace was directed by Brian A. Miller (Officer Down, 10 Minutes Gone), written by Mike Maples (Miracle Run), and stars Matthew Modine (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, 47 Meters Down), Ryan Guzman (Armed, The Cleansing Hour), Tyler Jon Olson (Survive the Night, Hard Kill), Meadow Williams (Boss Level, A Place Among the Dead), Colin Egglesfield (Vice, The Row), Christopher McDonald (The Stand at Paxton County, The Collection) and Sylvester Stallone (Escape Plan, First Blood). It follows a bank robber after he is sprung out of prison, tasked with finding the loot years after it all went down.
The Plot: Backtrace’s plot had a lot of potential for a windy road of twists, turns, and revelations; but the movie resigns itself to formula. After a bank heist, Mac (Modine) encounters some goons waiting to take the score, during his interaction his cohorts are killed and he’s shot and taken to prison.
He awakens from a coma and is sent to prison for seven years where he meets Lucas (Guzman), who springs him out and gives him an experimental memory enhancer with the assistance of Farren (Olson) and Erin (Williams). As the three search for the money, FBI agent Franks (McDonald) and detective Sykes (Stallone) try to put the pieces together in parallel; sending detective Carter (Egglesfield) to find them before they get what they were looking for.
The Characters: The characters here are pretty thin, following archetypes like law and taking personality as a suggestion. Mac had a family at one point or another and turned to being a criminal after his pension was severed. While not the most complex by any means, it is easy to feel sympathy for him due to that and the constant pain he’s in due to the memory enhancer.
Lucas is a guy who knows a lot about Mac and will do whatever it takes to fix his memory. Erin was a nurse, and Farren is just a regular criminal. Carter is a strait-laced cop, as is Sykes, although he’s not very competent; having been working on the case for seven years and coming up with nothing. Franks is a typical shady FBI agent. Performances from the supporting cast are unanimously bad, Guzman, Olson, Stallone, and McDonald are all checked out and Williams can’t act anyway. Modine is the only one here putting in any effort, trying to dig into a non-existent character.
The Mystery: Intrigue shows no trace (get it?) here. While Miller and Maples are clearly drawing inspiration from Memento and the Usual Suspects, they both are just not strong enough creators to make a compelling question or spark any dramatic tension. Plenty of procedural dialogue is spouted, as are “revelations” about the who and the where of the deal-gone-bad.
But it all rings hollow because nearly any audience can put some details together and draw a rough conclusion about the backstabbers. Because none of the characters are filled in with detail it all comes down to identifying archetypes and typical motives. Since Backtrace opens in the location where the money is hidden, any chance to identify with Mac’s journey backwards is lost.
The Technics: Technically Backtrace is really, really bad. Locations are extremely limited and almost certainly as a measure to save money on production space and use that money to get Stallone on the shoot for a couple of days. From abandoned houses to abandoned factories, to open fields; the movie never tries to hide its cheapness. That, together with a significant lack of colour in the feature makes it easy to succumb to terminal boredom.
Some ADR is very clear too, when Erin talks in the factory her words barely match her lips. Most annoying is the artificial screen shaking meant to show Mac’s mind being tortured by the drug. Backtrace’s flashbacks are already colour corrected to look (even more) grey, and the shots in the same area make the difference in time clear. Miller doesn’t trust his audience and just wants to piss them off.
Much like most of Miller’s movies, Backtrace does the bare minimum with its concept. While not original to begin with, some pizzazz, pacing, rewriting, and technical details would’ve made this enjoyable. So basically everything but Modine is scrambled in Miller’s incapable hands.