No Looking Back (1998) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Lauren Holly, Edward Burns, Jon Bon Jovi, Blythe Danner, Connie Britton, Jennifer Esposito
Director: Edward Burns
Screenplay: Edward Burns
Review published December 3, 2005
More of a meditation than a full-fledged drama, writer-director-star Edward Burns' (Ash Wednesday, She's the One) film is sporadically interesting, but leaves little in the way of a lasting impression once it's all over. The story is nothing new, and the ending is as predicted, and in between, very little truly happens to merit making a full-length feature out of.
Lauren Holly (Down Periscope, Dumb & Dumber) stars as Claudia, a waitress in a small coastal town that seems to be finally settling in to her life there when an old flame, Charlie (Burns), returns from out-of-town for a stay. It's been three years since they had last seen each other, resulting in Charlie packing up and leaving the area, while Claudia found a new beau in the town mechanic, Michael (Bon Jovi, U-571). Michael and Claudia are engaged, but that doesn't stop Charlie from making his moves on Claudia, filling her head with dreams on getting out of her potentially dead-end life in the financially struggling town. Now Claudia is stuck between a life of simplicity and regret with Michael, or taking a chance with narcissist Charlie.
As with most character studies, success and failure primarily resides in the authenticity of the presentation, as well as the resonance in the themes underneath the subtle touches. While there is little in No Looking Back that Burns' should be ashamed of, as it is a good looking film with appealing actors and a killer soundtrack, the real problem of his piece comes from the inability to transcend its story to become something truly profound.
Part of the reason why the film does fall short is due to the casting. The actors all perform well, even rock star Jon Bon Jovi, but for their respective roles, they feel more like faux Hollywood representations of small town folk than honest-to-goodness characters that have been born, raised and spent their entire lives with lesser aspirations. Starting with the most obvious, Jon Bon Jovi, he looks nothing like the part of a hard-working, blue-collar guy, especially with his highlighted blonde hair, softly pale features, and well-manicured hands. Holly's acting allows her to be believable in her role, and yet, her wardrobe looks like nothing that would ever be available for purchase in her town, or probably anywhere near it. Jennifer Esposito (The Master of Disguise, Breakin' All the Rules), arguably the most attractive woman in the cast, is forced to play a woman on the prowl, practically having to beg men to notice her. Burns would have been far better off casting more on realism than on looks or star power, and by setting his goals more modestly, he would have had a chance to make a more lasting film.
Burns' direction is usually stiff, and it still shows here. Some acting schools like to teach their students to hold a cigarette or beverage while conversing, as it gives them a more realistic body language than doing nothing with their hands. Burns overuses this strategy to the point of distraction, as nearly every scene has characters that are always imbibing some sort of alcoholic beverage or cigarette. When you start noticing that every single scene of the film has someone drinking a Budweiser, you know it's an acting device that is being abused. Why does anyone in this town worry so much about their future, when it seems they will all die of liver or lung damage within the next five years anyway??
No Looking Back is handsomely photographed, with gorgeous shots of the desolate streets of the town, while the music effectively captures the somber mood of the story very well. Sadly, it is the tale itself that can't quite live up to the quality of the moodiness, and once the ending arrives where we learn Claudia's final decision in life, it only takes a few moments before we shrug and go on about our day. No Looking Back is an admirable attempt at capturing melancholy moments and meditative meanings, but the lack of genuine characters leaves us little to find value in.
©2005 Vince Leo