To save you a couple of minutes, if the name Bruce Campbell doesn't get any bells clanging, you're reading the wrong review. Bruce may be known-'n-loved for the splatter-horror Evil Dead trilogy and cornering the market on smirking, cocky bastard roles
in Hollywood, but he's an actor and has some dramatic stuff on his résumé too. One of his earliest feature film roles was the indie period piece Going Back, which was shot in 1982 with a cast and crew of Detroit locals. The movie was gobbled up by Vestron as the distributor was on the verge of keeling over, and its bankruptcy left Going Back unseen even by many of Bruce's most ardent fans for years and years. Eventually the rights reverted back to writer/director Ron Teachworth, and after a lengthy struggle with home video distributors, Going Back is getting a decades-overdue release.
Dateline! 1964. Brice (Bruce Campbell) and Cleveland (Christopher Howe) are about to start their freshman year of college, and they've decided to spend their last couple weeks of freedom strolling around the countryside with no real destination in mind. A lonely Korean War vet (Perry Mallette) offers the boys a ride and invites them to stay in a bunkhouse on his rundown patch of farmland. Not having any place all that more compelling to wile away the next couple of weeks...and with Brice smitten with Jack's neighbor Cindy (Susan Yamasaki)...they decide to hang around. Brice and Cindy dote over each other, scrawling poetry and talking about carving their initials in an old tree, and Jack stands in as a much-needed father figure for Clee. Eventually it comes time to leave, and both young men promise to write letters to their new pals and drop in for a visit. Four years pass. Not only have Brice and Clee neglected to stay in touch with Cindy and Jack, they've drifted apart themselves. After a chance encounter in a bar, the two of them decide to take another drive out to the middle of nowhere, but as the saying goes, sometimes you can't go home again.
Going Back is a simple character piece, not bogged down by overcomplicated subplots or a bloated cast. There's really not even much dialogue in the expository, let's-nudge-the-plot-forward sense; almost every line has someone
reminiscing or telling a story. In a way, that's the core of the movie: romanticizing the past while letting what the present and future offer fall into disrepair. It's a sweet, charming slice of sincerity and a movie that's accurately described in the disc's audio commentary as a Disney flick with a good bit of ad-libbed profanity.
The movie definitely has its rough spots, though. Even after seeing the opening card with the year on it, I found myself forgetting that it was supposed to be set in 1964, only reminded by a couple of vintage cars and a few offhand lines about Vietnam. The cast, especially Bruce Campbell, is mostly capable, but Susan Yamasaki doesn't look comfortable in front of the camera, even though her shyness and more reserved line readings suit her character. A couple of unintentionally homoerotic stretches kept me in stitches, and the use of facial hair to distinguish the 1968 scenes from those set four years earlier looks kind of ridiculous. A friend who watched Going Back with me didn't realize that Brice was supposed to be talking to Clee when the movie flashes forward (Christopher Howe looks like he should be playing bass for Orleans), and Bruce's Freddy Mercury-stache is terrifying, real or no. Because this is such a quiet, dialogue-heavy movie with long, uninterrupted takes, viewers expecting something as hyperkinetic or devastatingly witty as many of Bruce Campbell's movies will probably walk away disappointed. It's very dated, and the limitations of the movie's budget may be too much for some to bear.
In an interview on this DVD, writer/director Ron Teachworth mentions that he wanted to make a movie, so he went out and did it. Teachworth is proud of his sweet and endearing (if rough-hewn) independent film, as well he should be; even a bad movie -- which Going Back isn't -- requires an indescribable effort from a great many people, and having a completed feature film is a tremendous achievement. As charming as Going Back is, though, it's still competing with tens of thousands of other DVDs for a filmgoer's crisp twenty dollar bill. Considering that $20 can land you virtually any movie in existence, this twenty-four-year old, unevenly acted, low-budget period piece is tough to recommend. No, Going Home isn't a bad movie, but it's not that great either, and the only audience I can imagine eagerly whipping out their credit cards would be Bruce Campbell fans who want to see him in this very early role.
Video: Going Back has been out of print since Vestron churned out a VHS release in its death throes, and it looks like this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD might've been mined from that twenty-someodd-year old video master. It's extremely soft, colors are pale and lifeless, contrast is anemic, and there's a good bit of video noise scattered throughout. Framing also looks kinda cramped at times even on a display with minimal overscan. I understand that Going Back is a nearly quarter-century old, microbudget 16mm indie, but this DVD looks poor even by those standards.
Audio: Going Back sports a Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at a bitrate of 448Kbps. My receiver dumped almost all of the audio in
the center channel, although dialogue would occasionally flitter back and forth from the center speaker to the front mains mid-sentence. The audio sounds alright...flat, dated, and lacking much range but still perfectly listenable. The original recording is a little problematic; background noises and the crunching of grass and pebbles under the actors' feet are often much louder than they really need to be, although they don't manage to overwhelm the dialogue. Going Back's original music can be kinda scattershot as a couple of dialogue-heavy long walks have background music that doesn't fit the scenes at all. It may also be worth a mention that some of the licensed music -- the theme song from "I Love Lucy" and The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" -- had to be replaced for this DVD. Oh well. 'Sokay but still built-in-speakers-on-the-13"-TV-in-your-guest-bedroom-grade audio. For anyone who requires 'em, there are no dubs, subtitles, or closed captions.
Supplements: I've never scribbled down a list of my favorite audio commentaries, but if I had, Bruce Campbell would be in half of 'em. So, yeah, it goes without saying that you get a commentary with the man...the myth...the...other stuff, who's joined here by writer/director Ron Teachworth and director of photography John Prusak. Bruce's sense of humor is present and accounted for, defending his not-fake moustache and cracking up at Christopher Howe posing sensuously in a sweatshirt and a pair of tighty-whiteys. Despite poking a little fun at Going Back, all three of 'em clearly have a lot of affection for the movie, and they also tackle topics such as the different shooting locations and how much of the dialogue had been infused with stories from Teachworth's life. Definitely worth a listen.
Teachworth also pops up in an eight minute interview in which the writer/director/producer talks about the inspiration behind Going Back as well as how quickly production and post-production zipped by, and he also responds to the critical reaction to the movie. Despite the "A Conversation with Ron Teachworth" title, Susan Yamasaki also offers a few brief thoughts, and the highlights would have to be some excerpts from one or two of Bruce Campbell's 8mm flicks. A solid featurette, and I kinda would've liked to have heard more.
The extras are rounded out by an extensive still gallery that collects around 45 black-and-white photos, many of which are accompanied by descriptive captions, along with a letterboxed trailer. The DVD features a set of 16x9 animated menus and twenty chapter stops, and the disc is packaged in a keepcase that also includes a set of liner notes by Teachworth.
Conclusion: Going Home is a sweet but ultimately unremarkable no-budget indie from the class of '83, really only likely to be of interest as a curiosity to Bruce Campbell completists. Casual fans will probably want to opt for a rental.
Related Links: There's an official Going Back site with more information on the movie and its release on DVD, including a downloadable trailer.