Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks is a celebration of the characters we love to hate in the movies we love to love. They’re not always the main villains – and sometimes they’re not even villains at all – but they’re definitely jerks. So let’s take a look at this week’s jerk-off, and why they find themselves forever enshrined here in the hall of shame. Since this week we’re talking about Biff Tannen, this is your spoiler warning for the 1989 movie, Back to the Future 2.
Woah woah woah. Hold your horses there, sport. I can practically hear you through my screen, “But John, Biff Tannen was last week’s entry into the Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks Hall of Shame. What on Earth is going on? Have you lost your marbles?” No need to worry. I’m not ready for the scrap heap just yet. Thanks to the convoluted plot of Back to the Future 2, Biff Tannen has managed to bag himself another spot in the jerk-off history books due to alternate timelines, a hilarious wig, and a magical book of sports results.
The original Back to the Future ends with Marty McFly returned to 1985 after meddling in the past, his loser father and alcoholic mother transformed into respectable, wealthy members of society. Money does indeed bring happiness, apparently. No sooner than Marty checks out the new 4×4 that his now affluent parents have bought for him, he claps eyes on his girlfriend who has transformed into a new actress, and his old friend Doc Brown appears in his time-travelling DeLorean to reveal that they must head into the future to sort out things that haven’t even happened yet, which seems kinda pointless but we’ll let it slide because it’s totally awesome.
2015. The FUTURE. A land of flying cars, shoes that lace themselves, holographic billboards advertising Jaws 19, and of course, hoverboards taking over from skateboards. So, Robert Zemeckis’ vision of 2015 from the late ’80s wasn’t entirely accurate. Thank God. Imagine how boring Back to the Future 2 would have been if all the characters were just looking at their phones all day, the radios played Ed Sheeran constantly, and you couldn’t escape the vacuous, insipid Kardashian clan for love nor money. In the pretend 2015 of Back to the Future 2, Marty McFly runs into his son who looks exactly like him but is a massive dork, his daughter who looks exactly like him in a wig, old man Biff who is still rapping people on the brow and calling them buttheads, and Biff’s grandson Griff, who is exactly like young Biff except for having cybernetic implants that make him a little… unbalanced. On his travels, Marty spots a quaint little shop selling historical goodies, one such item being a sports almanac that details the results of every sporting event from the ’50s onward.
Marty thinks the book will make a nice souvenir that will also allow him to place a few bets and make some dollar back in 1985, which is of course an amazing idea, but Doc Brown poo poos it because apparently he didn’t invent the time machine for financial gain. Okay, so it’s totes okay to travel into the future and alter the course of future history because something you don’t like is gonna happen, but it’s not okay to get rich. Sure, Doc. Anyway, old man Biff overhears the whole thing, grabs the book, steals the time machine without our heroes knowing, travels back in time to 1955 and gives himself the magic sports book, and then travels back to 2015 to leave the DeLorean where he found it so that nobody is any the wiser. Marty and Doc Brown complete their mission in 2015, return to 1985, and go to bed happy about a job well done. Marty soon comes to realise that 1985 ain’t like it used to be, and his wonderful town of Hill Valley has been transformed into a hive of scum and villainy, where gambling is rife, bikers ride about on bikes and stuff, and Biff Tannen is the richest man in town.
Luckily, Doc Brown turns up to give us the skinny on how the whole thing went to hell, and our heroes work out that they need to pinpoint the date that old man Biff from the future gave young man Biff from the past the sports book, which helped car wash Biff from the real 1985 transform into billionaire Biff from the alternate 1985.
New 1985 Biff is a tallywhacker of immense proportions. Clad in a gaudy smoking jacket and sporting a ludicrous wig that makes him look like what I imagine Donald Trump would look like if he had a better stylist, Biff is now married to Marty’s mum, Lorraine, but thinks nothing of hopping into a Jacuzzi with two strumpets while watching A Fistful of Dollars. Trump Biff is somehow an even bigger dick than all of the other Biffs in Back to the Future lore, threatening to leave Lorraine’s kids broke and homeless if she doesn’t play the good wife. He’s a corrupt businessman ruining Hill Valley, and that I can’t abide.
So Marty heads to Biff Tower for a little chinwag, and after bringing up the magic sports book Biff unceremoniously throws his lady-friends out so the boys can talk shop. Unfortunately, old man Biff from the future warned young man Biff from the past about a couple of time travellers who would one day cause him trouble, so alternate 1985 Biff has been waiting for this day for thirty years. He pulls a gun on Marty and reveals that George is dead because – gasp! – Biff murdered him in cold blood. He’s positively thrilled at the idea of icing two McFlys with the same gun, but recommends Marty just toss himself off the top of the building because a suicide will be easier to cover up than another murder. Marty is disinclined to acquiesce to his request, Doc Brown turns up to rescue his young protégé knocking Biff out in the process, and they travel back in time to once again save the day.
Biff: Look, Lorraine, you walk out that door and I won’t only cut off you, I’ll cut off your kids.
Lorraine: You wouldn’t!
Biff: Oh, wouldn’t I? First, your daughter Linda, I’ll cancel all her credit cards. She can settle her debts with the bank all by herself. Your idiot son Dave? I’ll get his probation revoked. And as for Marty, well maybe you’d like to have all three of your kids behind bars just like your brother Joey. One big happy jailbird family.
Comeuppance: Thanks to a series of mishaps and shenanigans, our heroes need to head to 1885 for the not awesome but pretty good Back to the Future 3, at the conclusion of which 1985 is returned to the happy 1985 from the end of the first movie, where Marty’s family is rich, and Biff is once again working as a car washer. Alternate 1985 Biff is, as a consequence, utterly erased from existence, absurd wig and all.
Jerk-off Rating: Tannen out of ten².
Tune in next week – same jerk time, same jerk channel – to find out who’s next in our celebration of cinema’s ultimate jerks. And if you’ve not quite had your fill of cinematic jerk-offs, check out #1 Walter Peck (Ghostbusters), #4 Glenn Guglia (The Wedding Singer), and of course, #12 Biff Tannen (Back to the Future).