By Ralph Novak
June 04, 1990 12:00 PM

Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

Now the point of the otherwise incomprehensible Back to the Future Part II becomes clear: It was dull, confusing and full of annoying commercial plugs so that BTTFIII would seem innocuous by comparison.

The plot is certainly more coherent, sending Fox and Lloyd time-traveling to the Old West in 1885, with a final gun battle deciding whether they can return to 1985.

There are enjoyable moments: Mary Steenburgen gives a sweet performance as a schoolteacher who smites and is smitten by Lloyd. (He says she’s “one in a million…a billion…a googolplex.”) When Fox and Lloyd hijack a moving train—they need it for their escape—the engineer asks, “Is this a holdup?” Lloyd replies, “It’s a science experiment.” Old-timers Pat Buttram, Harry Carey Jr. and Dub Taylor are fun as galoots hanging around the saloon, though Buttram has to say the offensive line, “You musta got that shirt off a dead Chinee.”

Mostly, though, this comes across as a case of missed opportunities.

There’s little of the anachronism humor that fueled the series. In one scene Fox shows his marksmanship and a gunsmith gives him a new pistol. It’s a nice spot for a gag about Michael Jordan-Jay Leno endorsements, but there’s no attempt at a joke. Lots of straight lines fall off the screen for lack of a punch, as if director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale had decided they exhausted the concept in the original.

The mealy-minded ending, with Elisabeth Shue as Fox’s girlfriend and Lea Thompson as his mom appearing briefly, will baffle anyone who didn’t see BTTFII. In fact, it will baffle those who did see BTTFII, so here’s what this film is about: E-X-P-L-O-I-T-A-T-I-O-N. (PG)