Bad acting leaves 'Timeline' flat

Category: Timeline Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 2, 2003 | Publication: The America's Intelligence Wire | Author: Andrew Concatelli
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Richard Donner's new film "Timeline" is a fun, fast-paced adventure movie, but the phenomenally bad acting ultimately turns it into just another example of a movie that can't live up to the novel on which it was based.

The premise of the film is that a group of young archeology students have to go back in time to rescue their professor, who is stuck in the 14th century after an experiment that went wrong. The students have to find Professor Johnston, played by Billy Connolly, and get back within six hours. Why six hours? Well, that and many other aspects of the technology are conveniently overlooked, but it sure creates some great suspense and gives the whole movie a sense of urgency.

The novelist, Michael Crichton, has seen a few of his books turn into classic movies (most notably "Jurassic Park"), but the problem is that his novels are usually so driven by brainy science talk and intense character development that a two-hour mainstream movie just can't handle all the information. Unfortunately in the case of "Timeline," both aspects are virtually eliminated by the screenplay writers, and we're left with a glossed-over plot about a wormhole that somehow leads to France in the year 1357 and are given a bunch of paper-thin characters we know nothing about. As the supporting characters get picked off one by one (as they often do in Crichton novels), the audience is left wondering, "Which guy was that anyway?" Crichton is a master of telling stories about what happens when things go wrong, and Donner is no stranger to action movies, having directed the entire "Lethal Weapon" franchise, so there's no shortage of surprises or action. The story itself can be great fun and all of the pieces come together in the satisfying ending, but the big, make that huge, problem in "Timeline" is the acting.

The first wrong turn here may have been casting Paul Walker in any movie where he has to do more than drive a car and look cool. The star of "The Fast and the Furious" movies plays Chris, the professor's son, and he gives an almost laughable performance. Walker tries to embody a combination of a sensitive guy and a tough action hero, but just as his character has no idea what he's doing in medieval times, Walker looks as though he has no idea what he's doing in a movie with actual dialogue.

Topping Walker's bad performance is Frances O'Connor, as the object of Chris' affection, Kate, who seems to have been brought along to do nothing more than scream, cry and cling to Walker's arm. O'Connor, who over-acts and over-emotes as if she were in some sort of slapstick comedy, seems like she's only pretending to act. The uniquely bizarre performance results in a flat, unlikable character with no depth and no function to the plot. In many cases, it feels like the director let O'Connor do only one take of an emotional scene, then decided to just give up and move on, perhaps fearing things would only get worse from there.

However, this perplexing incident of acting not matching up to the rest of the film could also be the result of the screenplay, which has characters repeat every important piece of information at least twice and gives us an inexplicably evil, rich scientist (played by David Thewlis) who owns the time-travel technology but only wants to use it for his own benefit. The scenes in 1357 are inter-cut with scenes back at the lab, but the unfocused, underdeveloped characters and situations there bring the film's otherwise feisty momentum to a dead stop.

The inevitable love stories try to anchor the plot back in reality, but watching Chris and Kate try to flirt quickly becomes painful. The film's acting and the romantic subplots are both given some much-needed help by Gerard Butler, who plays Chris's friend, the hotshot student Andre Marek. In the most lighthearted scene of a film that usually takes itself all too seriously, Marek's character tries to flirt with a young local woman, but even though they both speak English, he soon learns how useless modern expressions like, "Are you seeing anyone?" are in the days of old. Butler turns out to be the only cast member with any real screen presence and playing the part of the hero suits him well.

In an otherwise fun and entertaining film spilling over with action and adventure, it's really a shame that the director settled for the worst acting since "Star Wars: Episode II." Crichton's dense novel and multitude of characters deserved better than the performances Walker and company delivered, so you might want to wait to see for yourself until "Timeline" comes to the video stores which may be very soon.

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