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No such caveats should be applied to Back to the Future, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale. What moviegoer of any age could resist a sprightly romantic comedy on the Oedipal dilemma? As Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), a pleasant 1985-style teenager, exclaims to his shock and chagrin, "My mom has the hots for me!" This takes some explaining. Marty's pal, an aged, eccentric scientist (Christopher Lloyd), has fashioned a De Lorean car into a functioning time machine. Suddenly, Marty finds himself in 1955, in the bedroom of the 17-year-old girl (Lea Thompson) who will be his mother, if -- big if -- he can deflect her crush on him toward the nice-guy nerd (Crispin Glover) who will be his father. All clear?
Unlike The Goonies, whose narrative is a rapid succession of hotfoots, Back to the Future has a long fuse that, halfway through, explodes into comic epiphany. Until then, the film is nicely propelled by the ingratiating Fox (from the NBC sitcom Family Ties) and some snappy then-and-now jokes (in 1985 the local theater is showing Orgy American Style, while in 1955 the attraction is a Ronald Reagan western). The choice of year is canny, for 1955 is close to the historical moment when television, rock 'n' roll and kids mounted their takeover of American culture. By now, the revolution is complete. So the child of 1985 must teach his parents (the children of 1955) how to be cool, successful and loved. When they learn it -- when the Earth Angel meets Johnny Do-Gooder -- the picture packs a wonderful wallop.
But Back to the Future goes further: this white '80s teenager must teach black '50s musicians the finer points of rock 'n' roll. Out-rageous! After a thunderous heavy-metal riff, Marty stares at his dumbfounded audience and shrugs, "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it." You bet, Marty. You and your whole movie. Now and for 30 years to come.