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Timeline – 2003

Director Richard Donner
Screenplay Jeff Maguire, George Nolfi
Starring Paul Walker, Frances O’Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Neal McDonough, Matt Craven, Ethan Embry, Michael Sheen

This is what happens when one takes B-Level material by a good writer with a director who is kind of through with the hassle of being a director. Granted, it may not be fair to express that this might not be Crichton’s best work. To be fair, the screenplay changes the characters around a bit. Chris (Walker) is now the son of Professor Johnston (Connolly) and is a bit of a player.

Overall, the concept is kind of clever. A group of students following their archaeology professor to the 14th Century based on evidence he left them to discover at a site. In the right hands, this might have become a series of pretty good films. In the hands of a then 74 year old Donner, the story becomes a clunk fest with bad acting and only occasionally good effects.

I like Richard Donner. I always found him to make sound decisions when directing. He is the original Superman director who made comic book movies possible in the way we experience them today. He’s THE guy who made the Lethal Weapon series. Which is about 2 and 3/4 great movies out of four.

It is clear by watching Timeline, Donner’s ambition and his best days are behind him. He made 16 Blocks after this. I never watched it, and I am not sure that I should now.

Given a good, but not great, cast, he takes Walker, O’Connor and Butler (Chris, Kate and André) into the past searching for their professor. They are accompanied by what amounts to Red Shirts from Star Trek. There have been previous trips in the past, as we see in the first few minutes. We are not sure how many.

In the present day, we have Ethan Embry’s Josh left with the guys from the corporation, run by Thewlis. Conveniently, the time travel machine breaks upon the trip by our heroes (doesn’t it always). This provides something for people to do in both timelines, and it also allows there to be more bad guys.

The fighting in Medieval times were done in large part by medieval reenactors. They look like it. I don’t want to waste my time watching Lonnie from my old tech job lumbering around with clothes that barely fit swinging a sword he can barely hold. Not a good or convincing look. Some of the effects are nice, like the fiery catapults serenading the night sky before landing with a disappointing thud.

For the most part, this film is obvious from the first, and it never gets out of first gear. Butler and Walker give it their best, but they need everything to go right in order to hide their inefficient tendencies. Connolly is in the same boat, even if he brings a smile to my face. Thewlis and O’Connor are clearly capable of more, but I think the job may have felt like an opportunity.

Donner is in talks for directing Lethal Weapon 5, should it ever come out. He’s 90, and the last two that he did in his 60’s were not the best. It’s past time to take a rest. He’s done enough.

(* out of *****)

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