I love and am annoyed by time travel films in equal measure. Love, because they’re almost always fun, with a good sci-fi plot and that idea that you can go back and solve your problems, no matter how big; and annoyed, because they always make the same mistakes. The two big ones – paradoxes (obviously), and “why didn’t X go back a bit further, rather than jumping right into the middle of his problems?” But how does it fare with, you know, actually being a good movie?
First things first, it’s got Jeff Daniels in it. Perhaps it’s just the endless stream of shot-on-video horror that has been the ISCFC’s review fare in recent weeks, but it’s lovely to see a leading man who can act, properly. Just a look here and there and you understand what’s going on! I admit, this could sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not. He’s Ben, who’s raising his daughter Hilary alone after an accident involving a car, a very snowy day and a horse drawn carriage resulted in the death of his wife. They appear to have moved back to the town they lived in before the accident, to open up a hotel; before they’ve even opened up, the mysterious Madam Iovine and her group of unusual-acting friends offer to pay *anything* for a week’s stay there.
From this, it’s a fairly slow build to the realisation that Iovine and her friends are time travellers, tourists to disaster areas – the San Fransisco Earthquake, the Hindenberg crash, and so on. One of them, the guy who Ben sort of befriends, is a historian, but the rest of them just seem to like the idea of doing the “Grand Tour” – a rather upper-class European concept to co-opt for a 1990s American movie, but it’s one of the many reasons this movie stands out. It does occasionally feel like a re-edited TV mini-series, with the occasional leaps in logic, but it all ties itself together pretty well.
It’s a movie of ideas far more than a movie of action, even though there’s something approaching fast-paced excitement towards the end. Even though in a movie with time travel and a wife who dies before the beginning, you can have a fairly good idea of where things are going, it’s still interesting to see his reaction to these people, and how it mirrors his own reaction to the accident that killed his wife (the one part of the movie that really doesn’t ring true). It’s all nicely directed, nothing too fancy. The differing reactions of Ben and his father in law, the Judge, to the death of Ben’s wife, and their views of their daughters, are the central struggles that drive the movie, although the Judge is a bit too cartoony to be taken seriously.
So, the time travel thing. Obviously, Ben figures it out, but as he uses it for the first time, the only response can be “why doesn’t he go back and save his wife?” He goes back a day, right into the middle of the conflict that is tearing the town apart, rather than…I don’t know…three days, solving all the problems he has in an instant. No reason other than it’d be a sort of dull movie if he did things the easy way. And the big reveal at the end…just think about how that daughter’s life would have gone to that point if Daniels did what he apparently did, and then wonder why she’s so surprised.
Anyway, it’s the price of admission for a time travel movie. They never think about it as deeply as the average hardcore fan would, at least, partly because if they fixed that stuff, they wouldn’t have a movie (which sort of answers my previous criticism, I guess).
Not the sort of thing you’re ever likely to make a point of tracking down, but if it’s on TV one rainy evening, you could do a lot worse. An interesting bit of trivia – this is the directorial debut of David Twohy, who’d go on to write and direct “The Arrival” and the “Pitch Black” movies, and also wrote “The Fugitive” and “GI Jane” (plus getting his start in the business on “Critters 2”!)
Rating: thumbs in the middle