Movie Information

Genre: Science Fiction
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, Anna Friel
Rated: PG-13

While Timeline is one of the more dismal offerings this holiday season, it does manage to raise enough questions that help make it possible to sit through the film’s seemingly interminable 116 minutes.

You may find yourself asking, for starters, “Who in their right mind would make a film like this in a post-Monty Python and the Holy Grail world?” Sure, the subject matter works all right in something like the Lord of the Rings films, because they take place in a wholly separate world.

But English knights doing battle with French knights in a more-or-less realistic setting just begs the viewer to adopt a bad French accent and declare, “I wave my genitals at your British aunties!” or “Now, go away or I shall taunt you again!” I kept hoping the French would try to fool their enemy by constructing a giant wooden rabbit and forgetting to hide inside it — but no such luck. Catapults (excuse me, trebuchets, which are catapults that work on a counter-weight instead of a really big rubber band) may fire great whacking fire bombs, but it’s hard not to expect a patently phony cow to sail through the air at any moment. All of which may tempt the viewer even more to sail overripe produce at the screen.

Putting the unconscious Python humor aside, there’s another pressing question: Did no one question casting Paul Walker as Billy Connolly’s son?

Does Walker affect a Scotch accent? No, dude — he still sounds like he just ambled in from the beach at Malibu. Does Connolly affect an American accent? Nope. It’s the standard “Ach aye f***in’ Glasgae ach” shtick he’s used in his stand-up routine for years. Then again, casting Paul Walker at all might be called into question — and it doesn’t make matters any better that both Connolly and second-lead Gerard Butler wipe him off the screen every time they appear.

Walker seems to carry a perpetual “duh” cloud over his head under the best of circumstances — and these are far from those. I’ll concede that there’s a certain freshness to his dialogue delivery: Not only are we hearing his lines for the first time, but there’s an air of discovery on Walker’s part that suggests he’s reading them for the first time, too. Charitably, it could be argued that he simply can’t believe the script he’s been handed. And that may be true, because it’s certainly pretty hard to believe.

The whole premise of sending a bunch of college students back in time to rescue time-transported archaeologist Connolly is not the most inspiring concept to hit town recently. And what’s up with the second female lead, Lady Claire (Anna Friel)? She spends the first 30 minutes of the film spouting nothing but French (mostly consisting of exhorting Gerard Butler with, “Vite! Vite!“) to plainly uncomprehending English-speaking characters. Then, out of nowhere, she starts letting loose with better English than Paul Walker!

Finally, there’s the real burning question: If you’re going to make such an ill-advised, $80 million mess, do you have to be so dull-witted as to have a character remark late in the film, “I’m beginning to find this rather tiresome” (thereby echoing the audience’s sentiment for at least the past hour?). OK, dull-wittedness may be the only way you’d be making this film in the first place.

It’s been five years since director Richard Donner presented us with yet another pointless Lethal Weapon movie, and if he thought Timeline was going to revive his career, he was sadly mistaken. And while it may be hard to fault him for the idiocies of the script, he certainly doesn’t do anything to help matters. The main thing he brings to the table seems to be volume — since this has to be one of the noisiest movies in the history of cinema. Here is a film in which even the arrows are loud.

If this tactic was an attempt to drown out the dialogue and obscure the plot, it didn’t succeed. It merely made an already annoying film just that much worse to sit through.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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