Okay, here's the setup: you've got a time travel adventure named "Timeline,"
in which a group of archaeology students find themselves being transported
back to France, circa 1357. Do you (1) ignite the premise with imaginative
thought into the possible realities of time travel and its repercussions
on the world, or do you (2) create a purely generic "Hercules"/"Xena"
knockoff where half the scenes claustrophobically take place within
dilapidated buildings, and the rest feature instantly forgettable
action setpieces and paint-by-numbers character development? Because
"Timeline" is directed by Richard Donner, filmmaker of such classics
as "Superman," "Lethal Weapon," and "The Goonies," one might understandably
assume his latest feature would adopt traits more similar to the former
than latter. In a nutshell, such assumptions would be dead wrong.
In the historical Dordogne Valley of France, a group of American archaeology
students, including the ambitious Kate (Frances O'Connor), Stern (Ethan
Embry) and Francois (Rossif Sutherland), have accompanied Professor
Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) to uncover the ruins of a legendary
14th-century castle. Their simple plans go awry, however, when Professor
Johnston turns up missing and his glass lens and a cryptic note are
found at a research site not walked upon in 650 years. It seems that
the International Technology Corporation, run by scientist Robert
Doniger (David Thewlis), have discovered a worm hole back to 14th-century
France, and it is up to Johnston's studentsalong with wayward son
Chris (Paul Walker) and assistant Marek (Gerard Butler)to travel back
in time and rescue him.
Conveniently, the group has exactly six hours (complete with an honest-to-goodness
electronic time clock) to find their teacher and zap back to the present
day. While this could have been achieved in ten minutes flat, "Timeline"
pushes one far-fetched complication after the next at its audience,
both testing the viewers' patience and underestimating their intelligence.
Amidst the death-defying craziness, Chris, Kate, and Marek find time
to perform in a violent battle between the French and English, outwitting
real-life knights in the process; Marek falls in love with soon-to-be-ill-fated
native Lady Claire (Anna Friel), and makes a life-altering decision
based on his undying feelings; and Chris and Kate work out their own
romantic queries. The climactic fireball battle sequence, altho ugh
workmanlike, seems positively quaint in today's age of "The Lord of
the Rings." Meanwhile, both romantic subplots are implausibly written
(by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi), thin as a cucumber, and generate
roughly as much heat as the glaciers of Antarctica.
The acting is decidedly weaker than the average studio film. Receiving
top billing, Paul Walker (2003's "2 Fast 2 Furious") is his usual
self, which is to say that he constantly seems to be searching for
his surfboard. There is no denying that Walker is aesthetically pleasing;
but, save for his surprising turn in 2001's "Joy Ride," he couldn't
act his way out of a box. As love interest Kate, 36-year-old Frances
O'Connor (2001's "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence") is fine, but glaringly
miscast as an archaeology student and love interest to the much youngerand
younger-lookingWalker. As present day villain Robert Doniger, David
Thewlis snarls on command. And Ethan Embry (2002's "Sweet Home Alabama")
looks to simply be grateful he gets to stay in his modern clothes from beginning to end.
Based on the more scientifically provocative novel by Michael Crichton,
"Timeline" is a potentially intriguing effort that is weighed down
by a lack of ambition and originality. As far as time travel pictures
go, the "Back to the Future" trilogy, 2002's "The Time Machine," and
even 1988's "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" had notably more
to offer on the subject. When something was changed in the past, for
example, it usually had an irrevocably enormous effect on the future.
Not only that, but those movies had real fun with the boundless potential
of traveling t hrough time and space. In "Timeline," such matters
are taken with a minimum of seriousness and logic, much more comfortable
to be fleetingly brought up and completely dropped.
Flatly lensed by usually reliable cinematographer Caleb Deschanel
(2003's "The Hunted") in order to mirror every other aspect of the
film, "Timeline" is a lazy, mostly dull, instantly forgettable affair
more suited for a first-time filmmaker than a veteran one like Richard
Donner. Has Donner lost his flair? Who knows? What is undoubted is
that "Timeline" is an unforgivable, humdrum slog of a movie with so
many missed opportunities and so little of appeal one wonders if anyone
in Hollywood actually read the script before fast-tracking it into
production. Trying to make sense of it and still stay involved through
the duration of its 116 minutes is about as meaningless and unrewarding
as...well, "Timeline" itself.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman