A group of archeologists (including Gerard Butler, Frances O'Connor, Ethan
Embry, and Rossif Sutherland) have made an amazing discovery at one of their dig
sites: evidence that their professor (a fun Billy Connelly) is stuck back in the
year 1357 and needs help to get home. His son, Chris (Paul Walker, where does
one begin with this lousy actor?), demands answers, and gets them when
representatives of a secret scientific research team usher him and his fellow
archeologists to a remote base. It seems there has been an accidental "worm
hole" opened during research for a "human fax machine," and the professor got
stuck where he didn't belong. Chris and the gang are recruited to head back in
time with a company man (Neal McDonough, "Boomtown") and retrieve the professor
before he's lost to history forever.
What "Timeline" (IMDb listing) amounts to is a respected and trustworthy director falling prey
to vile casting choices and unconquerably detailed source material. The film is
one step above full out disaster, but who's to blame? Director Richard Donner is
one of most reliable talents in the industry, effortlessly guiding picture after
picture to safe haven. From the "Lethal Weapon" series, to "Superman," to
another medieval story, the cult hit "Ladyhawke," Donner is a pro and knows how
to direct a film cleanly. However, "Timeline" might have been a bad idea from
the start. Taken from Michael Crichton's bestseller, this is no easy adaptation. Where Crichton had the benefit of hundreds of pages to
explain just what in God's name this plot is about, the film gives itself under
two hours to tell the story. That isn't nearly enough time to scratch the time
travel surface, much less integrate an audience into the complex and expansive
narrative of the film. The story is something about a "wormhole" and the need to
retrieve a professor from doom, and that's pretty much all we get. The film
tries, with a clearly reshot scene (the cast is in awful wigs, and the
cinematography brightens suddenly), to explain the the "time
travel" reasoning, but it's futile. Donner knows it, and keeps the scientific
explanations to a blurry minimum, concentrating more on getting the action and
romance in motion.
Another pitfall of Donner's film is his cast. With Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor
("A.I."), and Gerard Butler ("Dracula 2000") as the three leads, all hope is
lost. I haven't seen a bad actor lineup like this in a long time, and the cast
makes good on its promise to ruin the film with screeching, ferocious overacting
and the inability to improvise their way effectively through a scene.
The cast, who seem to find that yelling over each other must equal good acting
in some psychotic way, bury most of the crucial expository dialog. It must be
stated again that Paul Walker cannot act, and faced with the prospect of
watching him having to anchor this film is disappointing when real talents like
Lambert Wilson (the Merovingian in the "Matrix" sequels), Billy Connolly, and
Anna Friel (as a French queen) are all left with thankless supporting parts.
Walker's dull surfer dude monotone ruins yet another film.
The major set piece of "Timeline" is the big climactic battle between the French
and English armies, which employs flaming catapults, castles under siege, and
damsels in distress. Donner is clearly in his element with this stuff, and
anything to get the actors to stop talking is a welcome sight.
The other side of the story, where actor Ethan Embry has to out-ham the evil
industrialist David Thewlis for control of the "fax machine," is equally as
tedious as the medieval section.
I really wanted to enjoy "Timeline" for what it truly is deep down in its black
Crichton heart: a big, dumb action fantasy that could be easily digestible and
provide some rollicking Saturday matinee entertainment. Outside of the big and
dumb part, it fails on almost every other level. Hire Paul Walker, and that'll
Filmfodder Grade: D-