| Paul Walker in Timeline (courtesy photo)
Dir. Richard Donner; writ. Jeff Maguire, George Nolfi, based on a novel by Michael Crichton; feat. Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, Ethan Embry, Anna Friel (PG-13)
Time travel is not only possible; it is inevitable. We are, willy-nilly, propelled forward every second of every minute of every day. But to imagine reversing the movement or positioning oneself in a different era is to raise profound questions about identity, continuity, and possibility. Timeline does none of that. It is a juvenile caper in which contemporary characters journey back to medieval France, where they are stuck for five hours in the Hundred Years War. "I wish we'd met at another time," says Marek (Butler) to Claire (Friel), the lovely French aristocrat he meets six centuries before he was born. It is the cleverest line in Timeline, but the movie is one-dimensional. Its characters are flat, and its plot is predictable.
When technologists at a secretive American corporation happen on a chronological wormhole connecting the present with 1357, they dispatch an archaeology professor, Edward Johnston (Connolly), to excavate the past before it becomes the past. But something goes wrong, and he is marooned. Attempting to retrieve the professor, three of his research assistants, as well as his love-smitten son, get caught in a violent confrontation between French and English armored warriors. The tourists from the 21st century prove remarkably adept with bows, axes, and horses. Nor is preparation in the local language a problem, since everyone somehow speaks modern French or modern English.
While solving the mysteries of a ruined medieval castle, the professor and his crew had been unearthing, two couples fall in love, and four travelers meet untimely deaths. Like Columbus, who saved his skin by wowing natives with his ability to predict an eclipse, the archaeologist escapes execution at the hands of the English by introducing them to Greek fire, a flammable weapon already used by the Byzantines and more likely known to a medieval warrior than a 21st-century professor. Boos to the arrogant English leader who tries to kill his unexpected guests, as well as to the CEO who evades responsibility for trapping unwitting travelers in the past. Boos, too, to studio executives who trap unwary audiences in witless films that waste their time. •