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Film / Retroactive

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Retroactive is a 1997 sci-fi action film.

Karen is a Chicago cop who travels back to her native Texas after a hostage situation gone wrong tarnishes her reputation. Her car breaks down when she's picked up Frank (James Belushi) and his wife Rayanne. When Frank finds out his wife's infidelity, he murders her in front of Karen before chasing her down. She ends up seeking refuge in a government science lab manned by a guy named Brian (Frank Whaley), but is transported back through time after she accidentally steps into Brian's experimental Time Machine, winding up back in Frank's car 20 minutes earlier. She tries to stop Frank from killing his wife again, only to end up making things worse, necessitating further loops.

This film provides examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Response: played for Black Comedy. When Karen pursues Frank's car in the pickup truck belonging to Rayanne's lover, she tells him to get his gun. When he asks how she knew about his gun (it's actually because she saw it in a previous time loop), she answers "This is Texas, isn't it?"
  • Ax-Crazy: Frank is unhinged and homicidal, and doesn't need much prompting to go on a destructive rampage. Discussed when Brain mentions that he thought Frank was obnoxious, (and he smelled bad)but didn't expect him to be an insane psychopath.
  • Bittersweet Ending: in the end, Frank is dead and the machine has been destroyed. However, Rayanne will probably go to prison for killing Frank in self-defense, and Brian has had to destroy several years worth of work, will probably never get government funding again after exploding his lab, (though maybe he could spin it by blaming Frank in some way?) and will probably have to change the focus of his research completely. On the other hand, it still beats the alternatives!
  • Didn't Think This Through: When Frank realizes that the time machine works, he plans to use it to travel back in time over and over so he can have the pleasure of killing Karen, Brian and probably Rayanne as many times as he wants. However, Frank may have sourced materials for the machine but that isn't the same thing as knowing how to use it. Sooner or later he'll cause a malfunction and blow it up. But Frank is not exactly known for good impulse control. Still a good thing he never had a chance to try it.
  • Domestic Abuse: Frank is a violent thug with a Hair-Trigger Temper who emotionally and physically abuses his wife Rayanne. When he finds out that she cheated on him, he murders her.
  • Evil Is Hammy: The murderous Frank, as played by Jim Belushi, is constantly cracking bad jokes and chewing up the scenery around him.
  • Evil Learns of Outside Context: Karen starts a series of temporal loops while trying to use a time machine to save a woman from her psychotic husband, Frank. Each time the loop ends in a worse situation, until ultimately Frank finds the time machine himself, and plans to use it to create chaos just For the Evulz.
  • Flipping the Bird: When Frank initially drives past Karen's broken vehicle, she gives him the clenched-fist salute. This starts the chain of events in the movie, as he would likely have just ignored her otherwise.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Karen keeps having to travel back through the time machine to stop Frank from murdering his wife, because each loop keeps getting worse. She goes back 20 minutes and ends up in the same place each time in Frank's car after he picked her up, but her different attempts to stop him (warning the Sheriff, stealing Frank's gun, etc.) only result in Frank going on an even bigger killing spree. She eventually decides to go back to before she got in Frank's car, and refusing a lift from him, which results in Frank turning on his partner and getting shot by Rayanne.
  • Heroic BSoD: Karen is implied to be in one of these at the start of the movie, due to a negotiation gone very wrong.
  • Informed Ability: inverted. Karen's job in the police force is as a hostage negotiator, and she's seen using her skills to try and manipulate Frank, as well as trying to make allies of Innocent Bystanders along the way.
  • Irony: Frank has a particular dislike for Mexicans specifically (see Politically Incorrect Villain); Rayanne's lover is Hispanic, very probably Mexican. note  Maybe that was part of the appeal?
  • Mental Time Travel: The time machine reverses time for a set period up to an hour while allowing one or more people to keep their memories. It also preserves the video on a VHS tape at one point.
  • Mexican Standoff: In one of the temporal loops, Karen takes Frank's accomplice hostage at the gas station, only for the Sheriff to walk in at that moment. This results in an armed standoff between herself, the Sheriff, and Frank, which ends with Frank killing the Sheriff.
  • Motor Mouth: There's hardly a minute where the villain Frank (Jim Belushi) isn't running his mouth off.
  • One-Word Title
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The homicidal Frank makes several derogatory remarks about foreigners, Mexicans in particular.
  • The Reveal: Frank knows all about the time machine - though he never believed in it - because Brian used Frank as a source to get his hands on black-market uranium to power it.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The heroine finds herself timelooped due to close proximity to an underground time travel experiment. She is witness to a murder, and tries to use the shortish (20-minute?) loop to alter the outcome. Results vary.
  • Show Some Leg: In one temporal loop Karen tries to distract Frank by acting rather comely and suggesting a threesome with his wife so she can reach for his gun.
  • Spanner in the Works: implied with Karen and the machine to the natural - or fated? - chain of events. Each time loop Karen tries to fix things, and they get worse. In the final loop, she refuses to get in the car at all, leaving Frank and Rayanne to go on their way just as fate intended, with the addition of telling Rayanne "Hey Lady? You take care of yourself." Without Karen's unwitting interference, everyone except Frank and his accomplice lives.
  • Time Machine: A scientist named Brian builds a time machine that allows one or more people to travel back to where they physically were at that point in time.
  • Time-Traveling Jerkass: A scientist invents a time machine which traps Karen in a twenty-minute time loop trying to stop a dangerous criminal, Frank, from wreaking havoc. When Frank discovers the time machine in the next-to-last loop, he makes it clear he's going to use the machine to kill Karen as many times as possible, at least until he gets bored of her death rattles.