More noise than signal

Timeline

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

In fairness, there is one nice touch in this unintentional disaster film. After a soggy river based getaway Gerard Butlers’ character has the always attractive wrinkled prune like effect on his hand that comes of such an endeavour. On the basis of the rest of the film I’m going to assume this was achieved by accident rather than design.

Michael Crichton is a fairly prolific author, and a consistently reasonable one in a sort of Tom Clancy but with pseudoscience kinda way. Unlikely to bother the Booker prize judges, but good, competent adventures. The advantage of building up this kind of reputation is that you can release an absolute stinker and it’ll still sell reasonably well on name value alone. Another advantage comes once you reach the Stephen King-esque level where everything you write is pretty much automatically optioned for a movie translation. This would be where Timeline makes its entrance.

I can only assume this film to be some sort of elaborate tax dodge, as it certainly wasn’t created for artistic merit or entertainment value. The story, as it goes, is that an archaeology dig headed by Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly) in Castlegard, France funded by a huge technology conglomerate ITC is going well. Too well, for Johnston’s liking who heads off to get some answers as to why the corporation seems to have an uncanny sixth sense as to where to dig for the best finds. While he’s away the rest of the team, comprising the Prof’s archaeology hating son Chris (Paul Walker), Andre ‘Odd name for a Scotsman’ Marek (Gerard Butler), Kate Ericson (Frances O’Connor), Francois Dontelle (Rossif Sutherland) and a few others that aren’t around long enough to care about find a document dating from 1357 with ‘Help Me’ and the good Prof’s John Hancock on it, along with his specs.

They head off to ITC to get some answers and dear lord above I wish they hadn’t bothered. Turns out they’ve built a 3D fax machine prototype which they go to great pains to avoid the phrase ‘Transporter’ lest the Star Trek legal beagles swoop and destroy them utterly. The prototype worked, so they built a big ol’ monstrous one, which has had the unexplained side effect of dropping the transported items through an unexplained wormhole to Castlegard, 1357 AD. The game’s afoot, Watson.

Something’s clearly gone wrong with the Prof’s trip so who better to send through the machine than a bunch of wet behind the ears junior archaeologists? Head of ITC security Frank Gordon (Neal McDonough) and two of his goons go along with them. All three are ex-marines, so in accordance with all laws of movie making this means that a) the two subordinates die in the first minute of their trip and b) the leader seems calm, composed and together until the plan breaks down, at which point rather than take stock of the situation and form alternate plans he panics and runs round in a circle, flapping his arms wildly while making the sound of a perturbed wildebeest while the gormless lunkhead (I’m looking at you, Walker) gets them out of a jam. See also The Rock. It’d be nice if this was the most offensively stupid premise the film offered but it isn’t even the tip of this iceberg.

They’re thrust into the impending Battle of Castlegard and immediately start fiddling with causality, saving Lady Claire (Anna Friel) from the dastardly English lead by the dastardly Sir Oliver de Vannes (Michael Sheen), who we know to be dastardly because of…let me get back to you on that one. Something about the accent I think. To save his life the Prof has offered the English the secret of Greek Fire, giving them a major technological advantage in a fight they’re supposed to lose. Meanwhile the machine falls over in catastrophic fashion and those remaining in the present have to race against time to fix it. Can the gang save the Professor and make sure history stays as they remember it, and will the beleaguered audience be able to stomach this garbage long enough to find out?

Well, I wouldn’t recommend trying to and the film does it’s damndest to ensure you’re tucked up in bed for an early night. The pseudoscience of time travel is gratifyingly glossed over by saying ‘We did this. Dunno how, mind’. Given how inherently ridiculous the concept is it’s difficult to be too critical of how it handles the time travel but a little internal consistency would have been nice. More baffling is the fact that fourteenth century Englishmen talk in the same dialect as today’s do, albeit with a posh accent. We are supposed to think de Vannes evil for killing a Frenchman, despite the fact that he’s at war with the French and finds him sniffing around his camp with a bunch of Scotsmen (for the purposes of this film Scotland = America, explaining away those pesky Yankee accents) whom he’s also at war with. I think him evil for not slaughtering the lot of them, which would have spared me a few reels of nonsense.

The list goes on. Frequent use of the process introduces ‘transcription errors’, which is actually the films opening gambit of daftness. A ITC employee is found wandering the desert with sword wounds, although an X-ray reveals various ‘abnormalities’ like his aorta not lining up with his heart and his spine offset halfway down his back, none of which is apparently particularly vital to walking around and breathing for even a short while. The Greek Fire concoction Connolly whips up is an incendiary, but despite that fact a few buckets of the stuff would seem to have mush the same explosive power as the Fat Man of Nagasaki. Incidentally, exactly how Connolly knows what the components of Greek Fire are is a bit of a mystery, seeing as that sliver of knowledge seems to have been lost to the sands of time. I guess he must be a really good archaeologist.

All of these individual elements of stupidity are masterfully weaved into an overwhelming tapestry of idiocy the likes of which I have rarely been insulted by. Of course, dumb doesn’t necessarily mean no fun, but everything else is so cack-handedly executed it doesn’t even have any camp value. The acting is without exception below what you would expect of this troupe of nincompoops. When Gerard Butler puts in the most polished performance of the lot and you cast includes ex-Brookside members alarm bells ought to be ringing. Walker lives up to his billing of a the new Keanu Reeves minus the emotional range, while Connolly puts in the sort of performance you might expect Connolly to give had you not seen Mrs. Brown or The Debt Collector and knew him to be capable of surprisingly subtle and nuanced performances. Here he displays the same apathy as everyone else.

While there’s blame aplenty to dole out to everyone involved a fair chunk of it must land at director Richard Donner’s doorstep, for no other reason than we know he’s capable of so much more. Quality of materials aside he ought to have been able to string together a few decent action sequences form this shower. After all, it’s not like the Lethal Weapon series of the first two Superman films were devoid of some decent fights and chases. Perhaps he’s a little rusty after five years away from directorial duty after 98’s Lethal Weapon 4, and on the basis of this it might be better if he’d stayed away altogether.

It’s rare when I can think of no redeeming features at all. Unlike many other films which have the good grace to be appalling in an amusing, laughable fashion (coughcoughDevil’s Gatecoughcough), Timeline is appalling in a very, very boring fashion. Should anyone offer you a ticket to this film punch them swiftly in the nose and run like the hounds of Hell themselves had been set upon you. Consider yourselves suitably warned, and don’t say we don’t make sacrifices for you.

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