In any century, 116 wasted minutes

November 26, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Timeline wants to be a dynamic millennium-hopping spectacle about a group of 21st-century archaeologists who get to wormhole their way into 14th-century France. Too bad it proves to be a gore-streaked diorama fit only for game-store display windows. The movie boasts a panoply of hard-driving stock figures, including the obligatory evil corporate honcho (David Thewlis), who discovers the time-space portal when he tries to create a "3-D fax." But Timeline lacks potency, drive, wit and personality - all the things that make escapism worthwhile.

In the risibly perfunctory set-up, a colorful archaeology professor (Billy Connolly) who's been digging through castle ruins in rural France travels via Thewlis' device to the same spot in 1357, then gets stuck there. After nothing more than a quick briefing and a costume change, his team, including his right-hand gal (Frances O'Connor) and his archaeology-hating son (Paul Walker), who adores her, jump back in time to bring him home.

The sci-fi technology here is strictly on the superhero comic-book level; it's less complex than Green Lantern's power ring. And no one seems to mind the warning that modern people acting in the past will change the future. At its acme of incompetence, the group's die-hard medievalist (Gerard Butler) finds himself rescuing and falling for a damsel (Anna Friel) who turns out to be crucial to French soldiers ridding a fortress city of English occupiers.

Whether through dumb luck or fate, the choices these people make to save their loved ones fulfill rather than disturb the history they've unearthed in the 21st century. Give or take quite a few corpses, everything works out in a happy-ever-after way that chimes totally false. (The few viewers left awake may wonder how the wormhole was opened, given the sad destiny of its discoverer.)

Rather than making sure their bows and arrows were authentic, director Richard Donner and screenwriters George Nolfi and Jeff Maguire, who adapted Michael Crichton's novel, should have spent more energy shoehorning Crichton's popular science into the narrative, or borrowing the ironies of other time-bending books like Martin Amis' Time's Arrow. But mostly they want to convey how vicious feudal wars could be.

Any potential for playfulness gets lost amid the hacking and charring. Butler's courtship of Friel is hardly enough to offset the predominant cruelty and suggest that romance, too, was in flower. Their dalliance does, however, provide a few linguistic jokes in a movie rarely leavened with lightheartedness. Devoid of big thrills or hearty laughs, Timeline isn't even a decent time-killer. It's simply a time-waste.

Timeline

Starring Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Billy Connolly, Gerard Butler and Anna Friel

Directed by Richard Donner

Rated PG-13

Released by Warner Bros.

Time 116 minutes

Sun Score *

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