Movie Review: Needle in a Timestack

I’m a sucker for time travel movies, because my mind starts wandering as to where I’d go and what I’d do. Bet on the Miracle Mets in 1969? Check. Meet Sophia Loren in...well, any year...yep. Mess up the lives of my ex-girlfriends? Well, I never considered that, but this movie did. And I love that premise. Especially since they do something rather smart. We worry about what the bad guy is doing. Yet, as we learn a bit more about it, we wonder if we wouldn’t do the same.

This is from writer/director John Ridley, who won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave (and writing the underrated U-Turn, which I liked but critic Roger Ebert named one of the worst movies he had ever seen). Here Ridley is adapting a short story by Robert Silverberg.  

It’s the near future and people can go back in time. It’s a rather expensive thing to do, so only rich folks take these vacations to the past. There have been laws enacted that when you do a “time jaunt” you can’t change the past. You’re supposedly going back to an event you enjoyed and reliving it. But, you know these rich people. They’re probably buying Apple stock and...oh yeah, trying to get that love that got away. When things get changed in the past, a butterfly effect occurs, and we see a huge translucent wave called a “phasing” and often times, this brings changes to other people's lives (they didn’t say, but I’m guessing it’s usually among the people in the inner circle of the person who went back in time). 

Nick Mikkelsen (Leslie Odom Jr. who looks like he’s channeling Denzel Washington) is an architect who is convinced that his friend Tommy Hambleton (Orlando Bloom) is going back and trying to mess up his relationship with his photographer wife Janine (Cynthia Erivo). Why would he do that? Well, Tommy used to be married to Janine. Since these time jaunts can cause people to forget their lives, Nick has a bunch of systems in place in case their lives are changed. This way they’ll be able to find each other and get back together, or at least not forget the memories they created together. I immediately thought of two other movies. The first was one of my favorites -- Heaven Can Wait. I loved how when Warren Beatty fell in love with a woman, but ended up dying and coming back as a football player...he had no memory of the woman he loved. Yet when they looked into each others’ eyes after a game, they both felt something. I also thought about the wacky (but hysterical) comedy Hot Tub Time Machine. In the end, Rob Corrdry’s character had done a bunch of things to make his friends rich. Yet when his friends come back to the current day, and they have mansions and the women they loved that got away...they’re a bit confused. I wondered what those guys would know about their new lives, since obviously their wives have years and years being married to this person. They’re discovering this for the first time. To them it’s all new. Yet in a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, you’re not supposed to dissect the flaws and just enjoy the laughs. And how could you not when Lou (Corrdry) becomes the singer of “Motley Lou”? Wait, why am I reviewing Hot TubTime Machine? Okay, back to the movie at hand.

During one of these “time jaunts” -- it seems Nick’s rival may have won. He’s no longer married to Janine, but Alex Leslie (Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire). He’s peeved (hey, at least his new wife is gorgeous; what if the “time change”...a term I think would have been better than a “time jaunt”...would have had him married to Tilda Swinton? Again, I digress.

The “new wife” immediately senses something wrong with her husband, which made me wonder why he didn’t explain to her what happened (especially since as time starts to go by, you forget about your old life and memories). I’m guessing with everyone having fuzzy memories, you could even roll in at 3 a.m. and when your wife starts asking questions, tell her you forgot who you were married to, where you lived, etc. The possibilities are endless. But, all joking aside, it did make that segment fun. We wondered how we’d act if we were thrown into this completely different life and lost the previous life we were living (and enjoying). Even if you have a gorgeous woman like Freida Pinto by your side, it would be disconcerting. 

This entire premise is just brilliant, yet the execution is a bit low-key. The characters are also thinly developed. And while it’s refreshing that this isn’t a time travel movie that has people running around with valuable suitcases, gun fire, and car start to the most exciting thing that’s going to happen be a wave washing over people in a business meeting? And if I were in that meeting, I’d wonder if their memories would be erased, and they wouldn’t remember that I already took two donuts, as I reached for a third. But I digest.

Since the guy went back and changed things, which is against the law, I wanted to know what Nick could do about it. We couldn’t lock OJ Simpson up for murdering two people when there was a mountain of evidence against him. How could Nick possibly prove the past was changed? It’s not like he has wedding photos with Janine. And the kiosk that offered to save memories for him (which was a fun touch), couldn’t provide all that much detail. Remember when we were kids and our parents would go to those Kodak kiosks to get the photos developed, and a few would be a blurry mess? Oh, and when they called him, it reminded me of 12 Monkeys -- which is easily one of the Top 5 time travel movies ever made. 

There’s a side story with Nick’s sister Zoe (Jadyn Wong), which at first confuses us as to how an Asian woman is his sister. We thought at first they were friends, but if they’re siblings, I guess we just assume one was adopted. But again, my wife and I shouldn’t have to be discussing this with each other while watching the story unfold. I remember Gene Siskel having a similar complaint in Jurassic Park, since Jeff Goldblum had a daughter that was a different race. That wasn’t confusing, as his wife could have been a different race, or the girl adopted. It’s different with siblings though, and the last time I remember something like that in a movie (a horrible movie with Mark Wahlberg), they explained early on that it was a foster family.

But it is really interesting what happens with Zoe's character, and that again just made me wish we were seeing more interesting stories happening in this film.

I also wondered why, if Tommy is spending so much time and energy to go back in time, and he’s a billionaire...why didn't he just find someone else? If you have money and look like...Orlando Bloom...this should be easy. And, do you really want a woman back that left you (maybe cheated on you), with your friend? Okay, can make sure those two never meet each other, or are alone together, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a wandering eye; or that you’re the type of guy that, at a certain point, she gets bored with and will merely find someone else to leave you for. And then he might have to start time jaunting all over again. At what point does he just tell himself -- this woman just doesn’t dig me. Yet when I expressed this complaint to my wife, she said (and rightly so), “You completely missed the point. He explained it was his fault his wife drifted away, because he was ignoring her while taking over his dad’s company.”

And when my wife reminded me of that fact, and I remembered something Tommy said later in the movie, it made me like the film more.

I really liked what Nick ended up doing, and how we see the relationship between him and Tommy. It’s just a shame that it’s also a bit boring at times. And I just thought of how a better movie could have been made with rich people going back in time and doing things (more riches, gorgeous women), and that creating bad consequences for them in the new timeline that they hadn’t considered (it would be like butterfly effect meets monkey’s paw). 

The movie gets an extra half a star for Nick wanting to play doubles racquetball instead of the dangers involved in rock climbing. As a big racquetball player -- well played, sir.

It gets another star for, one of many professions you see actors having in movies -- a photographer -- they give her photos that were shot and actually intriguing. 

2 ½ stars out of 5.

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