Box Office Failures Week: Playback (2012)

People like to rag on Christian Slater.

I’m not one of those people.

If his name is on the movie, I’ll watch it. Call it bad choices or bad luck, but the Slate does not suck. Granted, most of the movies he’s done of late do, but he himself, does not. He, like Bruce Willis (Precious Cargo), Nicolas Cage*, Eric Roberts (Lone Star Deception), and Tom Sizemore (The Pining) before him, may have fallen on hard times, and some may say he’s gone from heartthrob to has-been, but he always delivers the goods on screen. Always. And while Playback does suck and deserves to be noted as 2012’s lowest-grossing movie of the year, netting under $300 in U.S domestic box office against its $8 million budget (its worldwide gross was just over $57,000 during its 41 weeks in release), it’s not Slater’s fault—although all of the critical reviews on Playback make a point of driving home that Slater once worked along Tom Cruise and now he’s ended up in the lowest-grossing movie of the year.

Long before many came to know Christian Slater for his three-time Golden Globe nominated and 2016 winning role in the USA Network’s Mr. Robot, and a wealth of low-budget indie and direct-to-video films (Alone in the Dark, Bullet to the Head), he was on Hollywood’s A-List with roles alongside Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and he headlined Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. Slater admirably traded acting chops in John Woo’s Broken Arrow with John Travolta, In the Name of the Rose with Sean Connery, and Interview with a Vampire with Tom Cruise. Then, after starring with Morgan Freedman in the 1998 action thriller Hard Rain, his “star,” as with Nicolas Cage, started to slip. Call it age. Call it changing times. Call it problems with alcohol, drugs, guns, and assault.

Honestly, I don’t care what you call it. The Slate always delivers. And he deserves a Robert Downey, Jr.-styled second chance back to the bigs. His Golden Globe work on Mr. Robot is proof of that.

Watch the trailer.

Okay, so you’re wondering how in the hell does a film with a seven-figure budget earn a three-digit U.S box office? Well, hopefully, you read our previous “Box Office Failure Week” review for Zyzzyx Road, because, Playback suffered from the same exact rollout snafu. (Another is the excellent Jason Patric war film, The Beast). Playback—most likely to fulfill a clause in a SAG or IATSE agreement—played in one theatre (location unknown), once-a-day for one week (March 16 to 22) (the bare minimum, theatrical-contractual requirement) and sold approximately 35 tickets. As with Zyzzyx Road, Playback was never meant to be a theatrical feature: it was always intended to be a direct-to-video release.

The Slate deserves better.

The truth: This isn’t even a Christian Slater flick. His part is little more than an extended cameo (see Eric Roberts’s extensive 500-plus credit resume as an example) to help an indie-production market their film. So what you do get is an unrecognizable bit-player cast of relative nobodies (Ambyr Childers from TV’s Aquarius, Toby Hemingway from The Black Swan, Jonathan Keltz from HBO’s Entourage, Johnny Pacar from TV’s Make It or Break It, and Alessandra Torresani from TV’s The Big Bang Theory) carrying the film via their “legal loophole” low-balled below-SAG rates paychecks.

The story, such as it is, is an obviously rip-off of The Ring—as if we’re not having enough problems with all of the nobody-asked-for-them Americanized sequels and reboots of the superior J-Horror hit. (A more accurate comparison is one of Wes Craven’s lesser known and less successful post-A Nightmare on Elm Street and pre-Scream works: 1989’s Shocker (a failed horror movie written off as a “black comedy” to hide its failure as a horror movie), about an executed “supernatual killer” who becomes “pure electricity” and travels to his victim’s homes via powerlines and home outlets.)

Frank Lyons, a morally-void cop (Slater), gets a second change with an investigation of a missing local teen and comes to discover the town’s dark secret and that an evil spirit—a supernatural slasher—has been unleashed—from a VHS tape. That evil is unleashed by a group of teenagers producing their own indie-horror film when they stumble onto the VHS tape collection of a killer who videotaped the murders of his own family.

I don’t care who you blame Playback on: the writer, director, the producer, or the actors. But don’t blame the Slate: he’s barely in it, and when he is, he, as always, delivers the goods. The truth: his superfluous pedophilia-addicted police officer is the most engrossing character of the film—and seems like it was spliced in from a different movie; it offers no “plot twist” and has no reveal or revelation to the story. Slater fared much better with the two direct-to-DVD movies he did in the same year with Donald Sutherland (who rocks in everything he does): the action-thriller Assassin’s Bullet (trailer/full movie; You Tube) and the western Dawn Rider (full movie; TubiTv).

You can currently catch Slater on the small screen with his role as Dan Broderick on Bravo’s new limited-series Dirty John and Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming superhero action-fantasy, We Can Be Heroes.

* Be sure to check out “Nic Cage Bitch,” our Nicolas Cage blowout written by Paul Andolina of Wrestling with Film. It’s a must read for all fans of the Cage, so check it out and learn about some Cage films you may have missed, such as A Score to Settle, Between Worlds, Kill Chain, Outcast, Rage, and Seeking Justice.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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