Picks and Pans Review: Back to the Future

UPDATED 07/15/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/15/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

At a time when the very idea of another teen sci-fi saga can cloud the eyes and dull the senses, along comes Back to the Future (out of the Spielberg factory) to prove there's plenty of juice left in this kind of movie. Consistently compelling, witty and imaginative, this time-travel fantasy offers more rapturous fun than a gaggle of goonies. Michael J. Fox, the smart-assed Alex of TV's Family Ties, is cast as Marty McFly—a hip California high schooler with a boozer mom, a wimpy dad and two slugs for siblings. McFly finds solace in his guitar, his pretty girlfriend (Claudia Wells) and a Rube Goldberg-type scientist (beautifully overcooked by Christopher Lloyd of TV's Taxi) who's turned a De Lorean car into a time machine with the help of Plutonium stolen from a group of Libyan terrorists. McFly is zapped back 30 years in this contraption. It's the same small town, but McFly hasn't been born yet. This time his parents are the 17-year-olds. McFly's mother, played with Ann-Margret oomph at 17 and 47 by 24-year-old Lea (All the Right Moves) Thompson, develops a crush on the boy she doesn't know is her son. McFly must divert his mom's amorous attentions to his dad or risk changing history. It's a tribute to director Robert (Romancing the Stone) Zemeckis that this situation never veers into the vulgar. The film, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, is alternately hilarious (as McFly tries to deal with a world before rock, video and mens' purple underwear) and heartfelt (as the son teaches his father how to be a man). The period props, from Davy Crockett posters to the Four Aces warbling Mr. Sandman, are also first-rate. Jacked-up technology takes a backseat to charm here, and the film is better for it. In a role he took over early in production from Eric (Mask) Stoltz, Fox is smashing. He can reduce an audience to convulsive laughter simply by trying to convince a nonplussed citizen of the '50s that Ronald Reagan occupies the White House in 1985. And newcomer Crispin Glover is his match, turning McFly's father in both periods into a figure of dignity as well as fun. Revealing more of the surprises would be dirty pool. Just sign on for the trip. Back to the Future offers the summer's most dazzling joyride. (PG)

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