IHAO on ... The Dark Backward

The Dark Backward is a dark comedy that satirizes the struggles of a comic, and follows Judd Nelson as Marty Malt, a garbage man by day and terrible comedian by night as he and his best friend Gus, played by Bill Paxton, deal with an amazing circumstance: Marty started to grow an arm out of the middle of his back.  The film is dark, gross, weird, and ultimately tells the point that a comic must rely on real circumstance to create real connection with his audience, stripping themselves bare of all the artifice to create the honesty necessary to hone their craft.

The world is filled with every variation of a comic's routine that you would hear from a stand-up comic: the doctor is terrible at his job, just putting bandaids on things and charging $250; the agent is fake and in it for himself; Hollywood executives are ugly opportunists; everything that's on television is crap; a girlfriend who leaves when she is most needed in the relationship; a best friend who is incredibly zany, will eat anything, is amazingly annoying, plays the accordian, bangs fat chicks.  Even the world works like that, with every brand for every buyable item being replaced by a fake joke name and the items are all jokes in themselves.  It is a painstaking undertaking by Adam Rifkin, the writer and director, to make this elaborate satire and elaborate long-form joke all building to the pay off at the end.

Oh yeah, and this movie is garbage.

Yeah, who would have thought that a 19-year-old's script, realized some years later by that same person as his first big film?  This movie is hard to sit through.  You see, the problem with a "dark comedy" is that many times people focus too much on the "dark" and forget the "comedy" part.  The funniest points of this film were the terrible jokes.  One of them is too good to not share, so I'm going to right now, to keep you from actually needing to watch this movie to hear the joke.  This is a paraphrase, mind you:

"I visited my eye doctor today.  I told him
I had a hard time seeing.  He told me that
I needed new glasses.  But you see, I already
owned 4 pairs.  But he's the doctor, so I went
ahead and bought 4 more pairs, just in case.
Now, sixteen people can drink at my house."

The delivery and work of Judd Nelson in this film is pretty great.  He completely delves into the role, and I find him sympathetic, even with his terrible terrible life.  That is central to making the film work, and is in fact the only thing about the movie that works.  Well, him and James Caan as the amazing Doctor Scurvy.  That doesn't excuse the most wretched person in the world, Bill Paxton.  Ugh.

The film tries really hard to say something.  And I can see it.  I very much see it.  Of all of us watching it this weekend, I was the only one who saw it.  And I got more laughs than everyone else, too.  I can see why this film might be considered a cult classic.  It has a similar feel to Brazil, yet it is more tongue-in-cheek.  The problem with this film ultimately comes down to the director.  It just isn't made well.  Shots take too long, the pacing of the film is all off, and every single theme and choice he makes is cancelled out by the end of the film because of other choices made in the film.

Despite how bad this is, and it is very very bad, I don't quite think it fails.  Underneath all the grime and garbage, I can see the intended purpose of the film.  And Judd Nelson works very hard to sell us this character.  But ultimately, the movie isn't funny, it isn't even all that particularly dark.  It is just weird, unfocused, and poorly executed.  And I ... kind of admire it for that.  Like ... I'm not sure I'll ever watch it again with the same people I watched it with, because none of us want to force ourselves through this mess again.  But I can see myself loaning it out to the curious, or having a viewing party with other folks.  The Dark Backward is a curiosity.  I don't recommend it ... except I know some people will get a kick out of it.  So hey, if you have your interest piqued, lemme know, you can come give it a watch.

 Grade: D

Also, I've been putting this at the bottom of all my reviews last week.  And I got zero questions.  Come on people, I can see how many of you looked at these, I know at least ONE of you had to have seen this at the bottom.  I can't do an Ask Me Anything if you guys don't, well, ask me anything.  So help me out, leave some questions in my ask box on Tumblr or in the comments here or on facebook or to my email or something.  Let's get this thing going, we only got half a month to do this thing!  WOOOOO!

IHAO on EVERYTHING, TOO on August 1st


  1. I only saw the very beginning of this and I immediately thought of Brazil. And that is an amazing joke which I will try to find the opportunity to tell.

    As for your ask me anything, I want to know if there are any stand alone shorts you recommend. You've talked about youtube series you like but I wonder if there are any film shorts you recommend. You know, the kinds they have the Oscar category for.

  2. *Marty Malt, not Marty Mull. If they had named him Martin Mull, that would have been hysterical.

    1. Ha! Well that is a silly mistake. My fingers just did not want to type it correctly. I'll go fix it, and leave this comment for prosperity.

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