1/19/07

821 Time Chasers

(1994, SciFi, color)

Fifty years from now it will be…three years from now.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Multiple Cessna-mounted time machines threaten the world with temporal Armageddon.

Summary:

Not the last time we will see this man splay.Eccentric cyclist/inventor Nick Miller lures pastel corporate lackey Matt and a plaid young reporter named Lisa to a small Vermont airfield with the promise of a skydiving grandma. They arrive to find, not a thrill-seeking octogenarian, but a light plane equipped to travel through time. Low-resolution computer graphics chronicle their journey fifty years into the future, where grown men wear trendy, floor-length garbage bags, and nine-year-olds use large cell phones while jogging in pink tracksuits. One food-court meeting and another demonstration later, Nick has signed over all rights to Matt’s boss J.K. Robertson, the unmistakably evil CEO of Gen-Corp. Lisa wants to print a story on the time machine, but relents under threats and pressure from Robertson.

Nick and Lisa meet later at the grocery story; Nick apologizes for Robertson’s behavior and asks her out. They take the time machine back to the fifties for dinner and then smooch while they head to the future for dessert. Lisa interrupts the make-outs when she sees the ruined low-resolution skyline. The altered future consists of a garbage-strewn warehouse filled with scruffy, gun-toting Mad Max wannabes. Several fist-and-gunfights later, they learn it was all because of the time machine, which Gen-Corp used to further its own evil agendas. They escape back to the present and confront J.K. Robertson with the news.

Robertson acknowledges the project has problems (he’s already built his own time machine and has seen the industrial storage space devastation for himself) but refuses to stop using the time machine for evil. When Nick and Lisa persist, he tries to have them arrested. They escape and run back in time to try and stop Earlier Nick from selling his invention to Gen-Corp. Robertson gives chase in his own plane-mounted time transport, and the ensuing gunplay leaves Lisa dead and the original time machine destroyed. Nick jumps into a lake before the crash; he hijacks a motorboat while Robertson makes contact with his corporate goons to order pursuit. Nick arrives at the airfield too late to stop his earlier self from demonstrating the time machine to Matt.

Robertson From The Future takes him prisoner and flies him back in time to the Revolutionary War for disposal. Meanwhile, Earlier Nick and Earlier Lisa have found the wreck of the Future Time Machine and figured out what’s going on. They arrive in the past just in time to rally our founding fathers to save Future Nick from a shallow grave. Several expositional split-screens later, Earlier Nick and Earlier Lisa heed Future Nick’s warning and return to their own time while Future Nick and Future Robertson get into a fight that destroys the other time machine and kills them both. Back at the airfield, the only remaining Nick deliberately sabotages his demonstration to the only remaining (and blissfully ignorant) Robertson by dismantling the time machine. Instead, he pitches an expensive series of commercials featuring his elderly skydiving neighbor.

Introduction:

Dude.Tom tricks Mike into saying “Lost In Space” while explaining the premise of the show. He and Crow immediately switch to Lost In Space personas: Tom dons a new head bubble to shout “Danger Will Robinson!” while Crow spouts a string of overcomplicated Dr. Smith-ian insults.

Host Segment One:

The ‘Bots continue their Lost In Space game while Mike attempts a delicate docking maneuver. He sends them off to watch Mondo Cane with Gypsy while he heads out into space to chat with Pearl. They have a neighborly talk about Bobo and the ‘Bots as if they were kids, and then Mike asks, “How come you’re so evil?” Pearl doesn’t answer directly, but does mention that she lied last week when she said she’d never send them a bad movie ever again.

Host Segment Two:

Using the time machine from Episode 807, Tom sends Crow back in time to a cheese factory in mid-eighties Wisconsin. His mission: convince Mike’s earlier self not to take the temp job that gets him shot into space. Mike of the past wears aviator glasses, has a disturbing blond mustache, and is “thick as a slab of Canadian bacon.” He longs for the day when he can leave the cheese factory for the more fulfilling temp work of his future.

Host Segment Three:

Crow finally convinces Earlier Mike to leave the cheese factory to pursue a musical career with his band, Sex Factory. Back on the Satellite of Love, Crow discovers Tom serving as the Yes Man/Ashtray to Mike’s abusive older brother Eddie. Eddie recalls Mike’s meteoric rise to rock and roll fame, and then relates the tale his brother’s subsequent tragic demise. Apparently, his female groupies were a little too enthusiastic with their invitations; he took several large hotel keys to the head during a concert.

Host Segment Four:

Crow goes back in time again to stop himself from convincing Mike to pursue a musical career. After some argument, Earlier Crow backtracks and encourages Mike to leave his band and pursue a life of menial, low-wage temping.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow have dressed as Gilligan and the Skipper. Quoth Crow to Mike, “If my name were Gilligan, and we were on my island, what would we be here on?” Mike refuses to play their little game and goes to talk to Pearl. They discuss how much the movies hurt, and Pearl expresses appreciation for the feedback. When Mike describes Crow’s adventures through time, Pearl points out that there are now two Crows, one of which is trapped in mid-eighties Wisconsin. The scene shifts to the cheese factory, where Earlier Crow sits in the break room watching cartoons. The cartoon sound effects play over the closing credits.

Stinger:

Quoth the mush-mouthed Roberts, “Matt, it’s time for you decide if you want to be one of my team players or not.”

Thoughts:

Unbelievably advanced technology.Good scientist, peaceful invention, horrible potential for misuse by an evil corporation—we’ve never seen that before, have we? On the other hand, the acting is acceptable, most of the characters have interesting qualities, and the writing manages to clearly convey the story while skirting most of the gaping plot holes. In fact, the whole movie looks decently competent, like a reasonably experienced community theater troupe on film. This is really too bad; as it stands, Time Chasers is forgettably bland. If auteur David Giancola had been a significantly worse or better filmmaker, it would have been a much more interesting movie.

Not that it doesn’t have its share of problems. I could nitpick about the randomly appearing firearms, the various potential paradoxes, and each separate time traveler’s unexplained ability to know the exact time and place of the other’s destination, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything. You can’t measure a time travel movie by how well it explains itself—all such films have insoluble story problems, up to and including the good ones. It’s how (or if) they distract you from these problems that makes or breaks the film. Time Chasers distracts from these problems with a simple, straightforward story that never even mentions the word “paradox,” and indeed only after the film did I start asking questions. If you want to see an equally inexplicable time travel movie with far superior tone and style, I recommend Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys.

And speaking of paradoxes, Crow’s four-segment journey to Mike’s past works better than three quarters of the time travel stories I’ve ever seen or read. Mike’s past self is hilariously dense, and has awful fashion sense. Mike’s portrayal of his big brother Eddie is both funny and grating. Crow works well with himself, and Earlier Crow’s fate caps the episode perfectly. Also worthy of mention is the “just neighbors” style of Mike and Pearl’s chats, which is much funnier than I can make it sound in summary. Tom and Crow’s bizarre TV nostalgia games seemed like they could have been funny if they’d bothered to explain what they were doing and why. In their presented form, they merely perplexed me.

The Satellite crew does its best to mock the excessively bland film segments, but they’re not bad enough to be funny, and not good enough to be interesting. When they arrive in the future for the first time, Mike announces, “Food courts—of the future!” When musing about the things one might do with a time machine, Mike says, “You could send Bob Saget to meet Charlemagne.” When a dystopian future pirate climbs a rusty car, Mike sings, “Arrr, sixteen men on a dead Dodge Dart.” The movie’s okay, but it’s the host segments that make this episode worth seeing at least once.