The Time Machine (review)

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Epoch Moviemaking

I got yer time machine right here. See, you buy a ticket to this new Guy Pearce movie, and 90 minutes later, 3 days have passed by.

Okay, it’s not really time travel, but it sure feels like it. I guess it’s more like Einstein’s waggish description of relativity: Spend an hour with a pretty girl (he said), and it feels like only a moment. Put your hand on a hot stove for a moment, and it feels like an hour. The Time Machine is like spending time with the hot stove, not the pretty girl. I’ll grant that it doesn’t cause actual physical injury, only mental numbness. The long seconds — 5400 of them in 90 minutes — pass by so slowly you swear you can hear them tick, tick, ticking. It’s a metronome that threatens to put you right to sleep. Which would be a good thing, as your time will have been better spent.
Einstein gets a mention here: he’s the “strange little man” politely mad scientist Dr. Alexander Hartdegen corresponds with — maybe Hartdegen got the idea for making his story a demonstration in temporal relativity from ol’ Al. As the only very slightly deranged inventor, Guy Pearce (The Count of Monte Cristo, Memento) wanders around with a mildly confused look on his face for the better part of those 5400 seconds. He wears foppish clothes and has borrowed Hugh Grant’s floppy hair — being from the turn of the 20th century, he’s probably quite fashionable — and he gets beat up a lot, which isn’t much to recommend the hero of a movie that has no greater pretensions than to be a kick-ass action flick with some cool SFX and a hot babe. Not that there’s much ass-kicking going on, except in Hartdegen’s direction, nor are there many cool SFX. In fact, the only one is the moon breaking up, and you’ve already seen that in the trailer. That’s it: that one glimpse of moon chunks is all you get, so save your money.

There is a hot babe, though, and I could be wrong about this cuz I’m a girl myself, but I don’t think she’s worth the price of admission. This is only PG13, after all, and not for any sexy reasons.

Director Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt) is the great-grandson of H.G., and he obviously felt he could take some liberties with the source material. He and screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) have no trouble concocting a sappy motivation for Hartdegen’s scientific endeavors — let’s just say it’s a tragically romantic one that only evokes snickers when it wants sympathy — and no trouble inventing an exotic, far-future beauty who just happens to speak English to help Hartdegen get over the other lass. But are there mind-blowing paradoxes or other general messing with your brain, like all good and/or campy time-travel tales are required by law to have? No. There’s a thing about a pocketwatch that I was sure would morph into some kind of Jane Seymour/Christopher Reeve/Somewhere in Time thing, but that never panned out. Wells and Logan’s idea of fun is Vox, an interactive computer database from the year 2030, but he is played by the incredibly annoying Orlando Jones (Evolution, Bedazzled), and he never, ever dies. Hating Vox is an emotion to rouse you from your stupor, though.

The Empire State Building appears to have been moved by the year 2030 from its current location on 5th Avenue to somewhere over on 6th or 7th. Maybe that’s a joke, too. And I swear that faux lower-Manhattan street set from Eyes Wide Shut was used here, too. Mine could have been shut for 5400 seconds and I’d have missed nothing.

It’s all so earnest, so nice, so boring. Except when it’s funny (which isn’t often enough). Like when poor Mark Addy (A Knight’s Tale, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas) as Hartdegen’s scientist pal Dr. Philby has to exit Hartdegen’s teensy-bit-mad laboratory, and he just keeps on walking upstage until he stops, like the director yelled “Cut!”… but the camera is still running. Or when Jeremy Irons (Longitude, Lolita) earns himself his own Jeremy Irons Memorial Dungeons and Dragons Award for Self-Abasement as the evil David Bowie Jedi Master Uber-Morlock. I wish I was making this up. His white contact lenses do most of the acting for him. Look at his eyes — aren’t they scary? Yawn. *snore*

Did I mention that Hartdegen travels 800,000 years into the future? That’s more than 25 trillion seconds. Tick, tick, tick…

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