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Timeline (Frank's Take)

01/01/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Timeline in the USA - or Buy Timeline in the UK

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Frank finds that Timeline is a flashy SF actioner that boasts some mighty fine credentials that many other time-traveling movie vehicles might wish they could hang their hats on.

Timeline (2003) Paramount Pictures 1 hour. 55 minutes. Starring: Billy Connolly, Gerard Butler, Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Neal McDonough, Ethan Embry, Anna Friel Directed by: Richard Donner.

Timeline is a flashy sci-fi actioner that boasts some mighty fine credentials that other time-traveling vehicles wish they could hang their hats on. It certainly doesn't hurt that this mindless time-searching thriller is based on the notable novel by masterful wordsmith Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Sphere).

Also, dependable action-oriented director Richard Donner (the Lethal Weapon movie series) may be the appropriate moviemaker to give this tenacious trapping all its glitzy fixings as an escapist techno-tale of excitable proportions.

Yet with all that comes with this pithy package of an action-packed sci-fi spectacle, Timeline curiously has a hokey holster of filmmaking trickery that's elaborate and electric but there's nothing else to suggest that Donner's time-hopping tripe carries any depth or unique dimension for this ubiquitous genre.

Donner helms an action-adventure tale that's willing to engage in its wild and wondrous machinations, particularly for a scientific fantasy that caters to the old-fashioned whimsy of a transporting yarn reminiscent of the 1950's movie serials of yesteryear. There's nothing wrong with tapping into the nostalgic conventions of a cheesy sci-fi storyline laced with a millennium-flavored contemporary makeover.

But Donner's frenetic and overproduced narrative fails to provide the substantive surge to accompany the hollow and hectic script that calls for the movie's peril-induced mayhem. Although Timeline has an explosive flightiness that tries to capture the essence of Crichton's page-turning odyssey, the film remains a cocky and contrived contraption which gingerly dances around its Medieval-themed mediocrity.

The premise follows the account of a team of student archeologists whose routine assignment involved digging around a rural French site. The group's leader is Professor Johnston (played by Scotsman character actor Billy Connolly) who competently oversees the excavation with great professional enthusiasm. In fact, this excavation is funded by the influence of the wealthy Robert Doniger (David Thewlis), a celebrated representative from an international technology company.

When the Professor suddenly disappears and is swept up in a cellular force field dedicated to the proclivities of secretive time travel research, we're told that his destination is that of the year 1357 A.D. in feudal France. Thus, Professor Johnston is lost in this experimentation wormhole and it looks very dim for his immediate return. Of course it was Doniger's outfit that was responsible for the potent device that whisked away the wandering Professor into his unknown state of oblivion.

The Professor's Gen X charges, led by his son Chris Johnston (The Fast and the Furious' Paul Walker), are called upon to rescue their mentor from the unpredictable elements that the senior archeologist may face in the chaotic times of the 14th century France.

Among the tagalongs included are Chris's fellow student and hopeful main squeeze Kate Erickson (Frances O'Connor), a brainiac babe that the historical-seeking hunk has his designs set on. Also, there's Andre Marek (Gerard Butler) who happens to be the convenient French historian situated within the clan. Together, the gang hopes to embark on an "all-business" venture that is both stimulating and involving.

As anticipated, the travel to the hostile setting of the 1300s during France's ominous transition in a war-torn stage of destruction is in full gear. The youthful travelers must overcome this strenuous obstacle if they are to obtain their esteemed yet jeopardized Professor Johnston and escape the wrath of the persistent colorful battles that threaten their fragile existence.

When Timeline zips from one combative moment to another, the movie derives its wayward energy and drive from such a raucous stunt. Donner is content with trying to fortify his tenuous time-skipping sci-fi period piece with slick and rapid imagery that blazes by with every frantic frame that meets the naked eye.

Granted the aesthetic production values are appealing and this gives a certain luster to the jumpy action sequences being featured in this French feudal fantasy. Undoubtedly, Donner's pulsating project is grand and good-looking courtesy of an assortment of glowing moviemaking enhancers: well-oiled CGI effects, expressive period set pieces, robust fight sequences, savory and atmospheric backdrops that give life to the whimsical and bold goings-on, etc.

However, if Donner and screenwriters Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi bothered to elevate this spry but baseless material by conjuring up explainable tidbits to aid this otherwise empty-headed yet jittery excursion then this session of time warp trivialities would have been more solid and sensible.

The usual scientific syrup is poured all over the place without any decent explanation to accompany the mockery. The sordid missions that the fearless time travelers go on are a one-note wonderment. They play around with historical happenings that seem arbitrary and sketchy in its logical rhyme and reasoning. The dialogue is remarkably simplistic and the movie resembles the prototypical high school history class that's being taught by an overly enthusiastic bookworm substitute teacher.

The cast sails through this glossy sci-fi search-and-find fable with all the urgency of a casting call for a soap detergent commercial. Walker, with his pretty boy surfer dude mentality, is wooden and wasteful in a flick that still calls attention to how anemic his acting chops really are.

The blonde-haired heartthrob is considered polished goods as far as the box office female-based contingency that enjoyed his "pedal to the medal" bit in the arena of fast cars and fast women in his The Fast and the Furious mode.

But in Timeline, Walker's believability as a skillful time traveling archeology student engineering a plan to save his revered colleague/father is almost as believable as the profitable porn industry sponsoring a scholarship for down-on-your-luck eunuchs.

The only one remotely memorable and redeemable element is Butler as the resident know-it-all Marek who acts like the responsible tour guide giving his two cents worth of insight into the madness of his clique's involvement with France's erratic 1300 era-bound woes.

So embrace this overwrought costume drama if your heart desires you to do so. Donner throws together an elaborate display of guilty pleasure sci-fi exuberance that looks appetizing at first then settles for over-feeding its aimless tummy of non-stop sci-fi silliness.

As for me, I'll rely on the progressive Sci-Fi Channel where hopefully I can catch a much-preferred and superior rerun of the boob tube's Sliders.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2004

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