The VHS Files: Yesterday’s Target

Today’s VHS File is a dusty old SciFi time travel flick called Yesterday’s Target whose plot I just couldn’t get a handle on, despite it having some cool ideas, ambient atmospherics and neat set pieces. It stars one of the Baldwin brothers, and you pretty much know what you’re in for when they headline something. Daniel Baldwin is an unassuming factory worker who is recruited by a shadow organization because of his untapped psychic talents, targeted by a mysterious rogue military scientist played by Malcolm McDowell in one of his classic mega villain roles but he’s curiously restrained and relaxed here. Baldwin basically goes on a cross country road trip to find other psychics like him including a clairvoyant (Stacey Haiduk), a short order cook who is a firestarter (T.K. Carter from The Thing in this film’s liveliest performance) and others. They’re pursued by McDowell’s top man, a cowboy hat wearing Levar Burton in a bizarrely cartoonish performance that doesn’t work and brings the film somewhat down whenever he’s onscreen. There’s an absolute deluge of expository mumbo jumbo, arbitrary subplots and just garbled SciFi clutter here including some secret society that travels through time to prevent people from having shitty lives, a child prodigy, Vegas card sharking, McDowell’s random personal life with his wife and all sorts of interludes that muck about until I really wasn’t sure what this film was even about beyond a vague idea of ‘time travelling clairvoyants.’ Still, it’s very atmospheric and some of the performances are a lot of fun. It’s also quite muted and laidback and even when there’s gunplay or a pursuit it feels just… hushed and soothing somehow. There’s a deliberately anticlimactic ending as Baldwin and McDowell standoff only to surprise each other with revelations regarding identity, time loops and serendipitous phenomena that again, I wasn’t clear on, but allows Malcolm to inject some real poignancy into an otherwise standard villain role, if even for a brief moment when all is almost said and done. It’s worth a look but nothing special. I have no memory of where I even got the VHS tape but it’s another one of those screeners that nobody is supposed to sell yet somehow find their way to good homes. I see this is also streaming on something called Tubi though, if anyone is at all curious.

-Nate Hill

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