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Future II a carbon copy of Future I, without original's charm

BACK TO THE FUTURE II

Directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Starring Michael J. Fox

and Christopher Lloyd.

Now playing at Loews Harvard Square.

By MICHELLE PERRY

WHEN CRITICIZING A SEQUEL, the fairest procedure is to judge it as a unique entity and then to compare it to its predecessors. Unfortunately, this is impossible with Back to the Future II. Director and co-author Robert Zemeckis derives most of the plot from the first Back to the Future, and the sequel simply does not stand on its own.

Back to the Future II begins where its predecessor left off. Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) returns to 1985 from 2015 and tells Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his girlfriend that they have to do something about their kids. The three travel together to 2015, but when they return to 1985 they find that an event triggered by their trip to 2015 has created an alternative 1985. Doc and Marty then travel to 1955 to straighten things out.

Sound confusing? It's not, if you have just watched a tape of the original film. If you haven't, then trying to recall its plot while following the convolutions of the second movie might be overwhelming.

Future II bites off more than it can chew by trying to stretch itself over four time periods. No attempt is made at character development, especially in the 2015 sequence. Michael J. Fox plays Marty at 17 and 47, as well as Marty's son and daughter (a good-looking daughter at that). Marty's son is a drugged-out wimp about to join up with a gang of thieving punks. Marty's older self is a failure in life who participates in unscrupulous business transactions. How Marty fell from grace is not explained very well, but it has something to do with his inability to back down from a challenge when called a "chicken." This personality flaw was not mentioned in Future I, but it is quite an Achilles' heel in Future II.

If the movie had stayed in the year 2015, it could have expounded upon the problems of Marty's family as well as the futuristic setting. Instead, most of the sequence is filled with a skateboard scene reminiscent of the one from the first film. The special effects are great; however, holograms advertising Jaws 19 do not the future make. The film leaves 2015, abruptly dismissing the fate of Marty's son and the rest of his family. It is unsettling to see these characters presented and then left in the lurch.

The interlude between 2015 and 1955 is spent in an alternative 1985. Marty's hometown has become a dilapidated, sordid community of criminals. This brief yet compelling segment should have been developed more fully as well. Unfortunately, Zemeckis chooses the relative safety of 1955 in which to spend the rest of the movie.

The 1955 segment is simply a re-hash of the end of Future I. This is the most disappointing aspect of the movie. Zemeckis obviously believes that a successful Back to the Future II depends on the incorporation of elements from the first movie. This would work if Future II contained subtle references and inside jokes, and perhaps a scene or two which reflected the first film. Zemeckis' treatment is too heavy-handed and detracts from the original elements of the second film. If these had been given more attention, the movie as a whole would have been more successful. Instead, the fun, original moments are overpowered by Future I.

Michael J. Fox successfully recreates the role of the 17-year-old Marty McFly. It is unfortunate that he was not given more time as Marty's older self and his children, because those cameos had the potential to be very funny as full-blown characters.

Lea Thompson's performance as Marty's mother is disappointing. She was vivacious and charming in Future I, and so authentic that it was as if two different actresses were playing the part of the 17-year-old and of the 47-year-old. In Future II, she is crotchety as an older woman and vacuous as a younger one. Judging from her miserable performances in such flops as Howard the Duck, it is possible that her performance in Future I was just a fluke.

One surprisingly memorable performance is given by Tom Wilson. He plays a teenage Biff the bully from 1955, two middle-aged Biffs from 1985 and the alternative 1985, and both an elderly Biff and Biff's grandson from 2015. Each character has a distinct personality and physical appearance, quite an accomplishment given the limited screen time each character is allowed. Hopefully, one or all of Wilson's characters will appear in the next movie.

Don't bother seeing Back to the Future II if you have not seen the first, because the plot is entirely derivative. Do, however, see both sometime before next summer, which is when Back to the Future III will be released. Future III takes place in the Wild West, where Doc is stranded at the end of Future II. Hopefully the Future trio will resemble the Indiana Jones one, with the first and final films more than making up for a lag in the middle.