Directed by Michael Nickles
Playback is one of those movies that you want to forget about once you've seen it, which is why this review has been such a struggle to write over the last few days. Bogged down by a cast of unlikable characters and a rather subpar story that we've seen done before and done much better, Playback is a definite misfire from the generally stellar Magnet Releasing (the folks who brought us movies like Monster, I Saw the Devil, Hobo with a Shotgun and Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil).
Playback begins with several high school friends who are shooting a film project for a journalism class assignment. Their story is based on a local legend- a murder spree that rocked the small town in the '90s that left a family of four dead in its wake. After doing more and more research, our protagonist Julian (Pacar) discovers that the murder spree is actually tied to a late 1800's filmmaker named Louis le Prince, who dabbled in the dark arts in order to secure his legacy as a director. As Julian and his friends continue to dig deeper, the spirit of le Prince gets all riled up and begins to hunt down the teens through a haunted film that is unearthed, and soon they must try and put an end to le Prince's haunting reign of terror.
On paper Playback actually seems like a pretty fun concept, but in execution it's just a hot mess of a horror flick. Writer/director Michael Nickles has some pretty interesting concepts in there which of course are quite reminiscent of The Ring; however, it wasn’t that his story was too much like The Ring. It was more like it wanted to be The Ring and about 11 other movies as well all rolled up into one.
The biggest issue surrounding Playback is that while Nickles clearly has crafted a story rooted in the world of supernatural possession, he never fully allows Playback to be a supernatural possession flick, and to be honest, he never really allows it to be a thriller, a slasher, or a drama... or a cohesive movie either. Nickles offers no real clarity as a storyteller, and if you happen to look away for even a second, it’s incredibly easy to miss plot revelations that happen along the way.
Playback is also plagued with an uneven tone, zilch in the atmosphere department and characters that are all incredibly abrasive and, frankly, couldn't die quickly enough. As someone who grew up in the 80s, it's a damn shame to see what has happened to Christian Slater's career over the last fifteen years or so now. That being said, Slater actually manages to rise to the occasion in Playback and delivers the only strong performance in the film (although his creepy alter ego of a guy who likes to buy video tapes of undressed teenage girls is a bit on the skeevy side, making it a waste of all that charisma; you just can't truly like that guy at all). He is definitely underutilized in the flick.
The bottom line is that Playback is a movie that had the potential to be good but suffers from terrible writing and a director who should have let someone have a pass at his script to get things tightened up and avoid all the pitfalls that clearly tripped Nickles up along the way. Not even Happy Harry Hard-On himself can save this mess of a flick; Playback is definitely skippable.
2 out of 5