Well, Paul Walker has soiled another movie. Why won't he go away? Oh yeah, he's pretty. I forgot. Look, I'm not saying Timeline would be a good movie without him. With or without him it's still frighteningly bad. But removing him from this movie (or any movie for that matter) could only make it better.
Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, Timeline is the story of some high tech mucky mucks who come up with a way to fax people into the past, France 1357 to be specific. Only things go awry (as they so often do with fax machines) and archeology professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connelly) is trapped in time. So the obvious solution is of course to send his students back after him. I can buy that. Since they are qualified archeologists, they will know something about the time period, right? That doesn't however explain why they send Johnston's son (Paul Walker) who hates history and spends all his time feeling up his father's female students during inappropriate moments. I guess groping comes in handy with all those medieval wenches.
Rushed into the time chamber without any prep, the group is faxed back to France where, like Homer Simpson with his Time Toaster and a baseball bat (See "Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V"), they "smash history good." Remember when even the tiniest changes could have massive consequences for the future? The cast of Timeline has evidently never seen Back to the Future. They cut a path of wanton destruction through the 14th century, slaughtering knights, rescuing damsels, and constructing super weapons with almost no thought to what this might do to their future. Even Martin Lawrence wasn't this stupid.
Has Richard Donner really come to this? Yes, that Richard Donner. Director of classic blockbusters like Superman, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon, and Scrooged, Donner long ago established himself as a sure winner behind the camera. Then he directed Timeline. I can only assume that since his last directing gig (at the helm of Lethal Weapon 4) he has become senile or at the least wildly forgetful. He seems to have forgotten how to make movies. No sane director intentionally instructs his cast to recite (and I do mean recite) their lines by talking over one another. No one with a brain makes a time machine for a big budget blockbuster out of cheap rotating mirrors. Heck, for that matter, what is he doing making a time travel movie without any cool time travel effects? Even last year's time travel stinker, The Time Machine at least had that. What does Donner use? Blurry cameras and wind. I guess if you stand in front of a fan and smear Vaseline on your camera lens you'll end up in 14th century France. Try it when you get home. Let me know how it goes.
The sad thing is, that except for Paul Walker, Timeline actually has a pretty good cast. Billy Connelly delivers a spectacular turn with a pretty limited supporting role in the upcoming Tome Cruise flick, The Last Samurai. He's a great character actor who's been lurking about for years, but just has nothing to work with here. Judging from his embarrassed looking performance, he knows it. Ethan Embry is another solid name, who despite a quirky goatee, is pretty wasted in this movie. He's barely in it and ought to petition SAG to have his name removed from the credits in order to spare himself the shame. Gerard Butler, who plays Merak in the movie, makes some attempt to keep us from leaving the theater, leaping around the screen with an indeterminate Irish/Scottish/British brogue. For his Herculean efforts in the face of horrific movie making, he ends up being just about the only character you won't hate. Every cast member, even those who aren't asleep, comes up empty in Timeline; victims of soul crushing direction and underdeveloped or just plain uninteresting writing.
Maybe it would have helped had Butler, not Walker been cast in the film's leading role. Sadly, that was not to be. Walker is the focus of this abortive epic and succeeds in surprising even me, an avowed Walker hater, with his absolute inability to act. Walker is so incompetent, that he can't manage to iron a shirt convincingly. When faced with this challenge he lifts the iron above the shirt and flings his arms from side to side, delivering what can only be described as his interpretation of a six year old girl playing house. When called upon to speak, he, more than anyone else goes out of his way to run roughshod over his fellows dialogue, cheapening even the film's most sincere moments with flatly regurgitated words that would sound better had they been read off a cue card by a beer swilling construction worker. Walker delivers every botched line, every hideous piece of rotting stinking dialogue with complete idiot sincerity. Either he's too stupid to know just how bad he is, or he's so busy being a Hollywood uber-hunk he just doesn't care. The only bright light in Timeline is that when the movie flops as hard as it must, perhaps it will be Walker's empty-headed career which takes the fall.
A friend told me that he knew Timeline would stink, but that he was planning to go see it anyway, just for the cool medieval siege. If you like watching bored union workers stand around in battered rubble flinging fake fire at one another, then on that front, Timeline does indeed deliver. Really, you'd be better off saving your money and heading on over to Medieval Times. The costumes are better and you get a free meal. You've seen one flaming arrow, you've seen them all. Donner doesn't have another action money shot up his sleeve. As a director, he's all out of tricks.
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