Just as a government scientist perfects an experiment in time travel ex-police psychologist Karen Warren's (Kylie Travis) car breaks down on a remote road. Unknowingly, she hitches a ride from redneck Texan Frank Lloyd (James Belushi) and his abused wife Rayanne and before long she begins to argue with the ignorant driver. Suddenly things take on a whole different perspective when the car is pulled over by a highway patrol cop and the lawman is killed by Lloyd. Escaping from the madman and stumbling across the scientist's secret research facility Warren convinces the scientist to send her back in time to save the cop from being shot dead. Only problem is, when she does return, twenty minutes earlier, it all goes horribly wrong and more innocent people are killed as a result. An extraordinary and fateful chain of events has just begun.
The time travel premise in this independent gem is really just a device used to play with the standard linear structure of most films. By having an extremely unlikely and convenient set of circumstances come together the writer can have us repeat the same time over and over again but each time is different because although the location is the same the events have changed. In this respect, Retroactive most clearly resembles Groundhog Day, but in place of that film's charm and insight it offers action, terror, black humour and a clever basic idea. In Groundhog Day the main character who returns to the same time uses that time to put things right that are wrong. Here the same premise is used but it then asks the question "But what if...?" And that 'but' is when despite your best efforts you make things worse, and worse still people die as a result of your actions no matter how well-intentioned they were. After a shaky start (the opening science lab sequence is the worst part of the entire film), director Louis Morneau lends a distinctly Tarantino/Reservoir Dogs air to the proceedings - his action sequences are just as breathtaking and the pendulum swings from shocking brutality to tension-relieving dark humour are just as effective. Belushi comes across as outrageously OTT at first but because of his conviction in just keeping his character this side of parody manages to pull off a career best performance. I'd never have thought the man who starred in dirge like K-9 could scare the shit out of me (or actually impress me for that matter) - but boy was I wrong! Kylie Travis as the lead is an extremely attractive protagonist and her shapely figure (given several blatant opportunities to display itself) does occasionally distract from her all-round strong performance.
The road movie atmosphere is significantly added to by the presence of M. Emmet Walsh as a dodgy gas station manager and his scenes are amongst the film's best. Other supporting actors also shine - Shannon Whirry is very good in the difficult role as Frank's long-suffering wife Rayanne and Sherman Howard is perfect as the featureless and slightly sinister 'state trooper Parker'. It's a shame this has gone straight to video after an all-too-brief theatrical run (courtesy of the National Film Theatre in London in March). George Mooradian's impressive widescreen desert location photography will be compromised completely in a panned and scanned rental release but nevertheless this is one you must check out - you'll not see a better action road movie this year. This has classic cult-movie potential but I hope it gets (because it deserves) a wide audience. Cinema programmers take note: this would make a great double-bill feature with Ate de Jong's Highway To Hell.