Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: 'My Boyfriend's Back' Blu-ray

With his sparse hair and prominent spectacles, Bob Balaban is best known to comedy fans for being in front of the camera in stuff like “Seinfeld” and Christopher Guest’s comedies. Behind the camera, Balaban has more cult appeal as the director of a couple of truly odd horror-comedies. In 1989, he made Parents, a tale of childhood fears and cannibalism that remains a uniquely funny and chilling masterpiece despite its tonal inconsistencies. I doubt anyone would call 1993’s My Boyfriend’s Back a masterpiece, though it hits a more consistent tone across its swift 85-minutes. That tone: goofy. A lot of critics griped about the picture’s goofiness, some even claiming that this early zombie-comedy would have been better if it peered at its material through a darker glass, but that extreme goofiness is what gives the movie its own unique feel and appeal.

Andrew Lowery (the lone unknown in a sea of familiar character actors and future stars) is Johnny Dingle, a doofus who’s been in love with Missy McCloud (B-horror staple Traci Lind) since they were tots. Teenage Johnny finally resolves to win Missy with an asinine convenience-store-robbery scheme that ends with him getting plugged multiple times by a very real gunman. With his dying breath, Johnny asks Missy to go to the prom with him. Hardly expecting Johnny to live that long, Missy says, "yes." Johnny croaks. Johnny gets buried. Johnny refuses to let any of that get in the way of his dream date.

The genuinely funny running joke in My Boyfriend’s Back is that Johnny is so ordinary that no one reacts to the fact that he has crawled out of the grave with anything more than mild surprise. This makes way for lots of absurdity in the Better Off Dead vein but with an added twist of grotesquery befitting its more monstrous subject matter (Johnny’s doting mom, the perpetually terrific Mary Beth Hurt, thinks nothing of procuring little kids and corpses for her son to munch on).

Not everything works as well as that. There are a couple of painfully unfunny fantasy sequences (though the one in which Paul Dooley taunts Johnny to eat him gets it right). Harry Manfredi’s bad eighties-sitcom score attempts to give the comedy an extra goose of lightheartedness it really doesn’t need. The cop-out ending feels more like the work of a dumbass test audience than a screenwriter. But don’t let any of that put you off because none of it keeps My Boyfriend’s Back from being entertaining and amusing as a whole. And despite an obvious lack of budget (they couldn’t even spring for more than a few pats of light pancake makeup to zombify Johnny), it’s also a nice looking film with its cheerfully primary palette, the occasionally inserted E.C.-horror-comic-style splash page, and a couple of spookily atmospheric exterior night shots. Mill Creek Entertainment’s new blu-ray represents those elements with pleasing clarity and naturalness, and only the occasional white speck manages to blemish the picture. The disc is as bare bones as Paul Dooley at the end of that fantasy sequence, but I’m sure the select fans who appreciate the underappreciated charms of My Boyfriend’s Back will just be happy that it got a Blu-ray release at all.
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