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Film review: Back to the Future, Part III

Published: Tuesday, May 29 1990 12:00 a.m. MDT

Well, it's finally here. And you're asking, of course, where "Back to the Future, Part III" fits on the quality scale, since part one was fabulous and part two was disappointing.

The answer? Somewhere in the middle.

Let's face it, it's impossible to recapture the wonder and delight of the original "Back to the Future," a marvelously inventive time-travel picture with a sense of both heart and humor that are all too rare in this genre — or very many movies at all, for that matter — and which appealed to a surprisingly wide audience.

But "Part II" was gadget-heavy, overly laden with special effects and lacking those aforementioned essential ingredients — heart and humor.

You'll be happy to know that liberal doses of heart and humor are back intact in "Part III," while the gadgetry and special effects, though pres-ent, are not overwhelming.

In the end, the bad news may be that it's all quite predictable, but the good news is that it doesn't matter.

What we have this time around is a cowboy spoof, "Back to the Blazing Saddles" if you will, with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) going back in time in his souped-up DeLorean to 1885, again in Hill Valley, which is now a Western town with a dirt Main Street, a saloon and a nasty gunslinger named Mad Dog (Thomas F. Wilson), who is an ancestor of Biff.

The reason for this trip is that Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who has settled happily in 1885 as a blacksmith, is going to be shot in the back by Mad Dog if Marty doesn't save him.

Meanwhile, Doc falls in love with the new schoolmarm (Mary Steenburgen), though he recognizes that a relationship with her will cause problems in the ever convoluted "space-time continuum."

But, story aside, what makes "Part III" work is the warmth with which Doc Brown's character is treated — he almost seems to have the lead role in this one — and the series of goofy gags that play off the anachronisms readily apparent with two 20th century guys living in the 19th century.

Some of the jokes tend to be a bit overused, as with the running gag about Marty calling himself Clint Eastwood — but even that one has a funny kicker at the end. And there are some wonderful touches here, such as having cowboy movie veterans Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr. and Pat Buttram as a card-playing trio in the saloon.

Fox still manages to pass for 17 as Marty and he's also very good as Marty's great-great-great grandfather, a special effects treat without all the razzle-dazzle overkill of "Part II."

But it is Lloyd and Steenburgen's lovely romance that gives the movie a core it might not otherwise have, and they are both excellent (After 15 years of acting in films Lloyd finally gets his first screen kiss.)

Also quite good are Lea Thompson, convincing as an Irish immigrant ancestor of Marty's; Thomas F. Wilson, who has a great time as evil Mad Dog; and veteran character actors Matt Clark as the philosophical bartender and Burton Gilliam as a gun salesman. I also liked the funny cameo by ZZ Top. (It's unfortunate, however, that the delightful Elisabeth Shue is given practically nothing to do.)

Make no mistake, "Back to the Future, Part III" is no "Back to the Future." But taken on its own terms, "Part III" is a funny Western spoof and a nice pull-it-all-together finish for the trilogy.