- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

“Castlegard? Huh. Sounds like a theme park.”Who’s to say whether it was an inside joke or not — my guess is that it was — but either way the joke’s on “Timeline,” a torturous adaptation of “Jurassic Park”-maestro Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name.

In the 14th century, Castlegard — a formidable French fortress, it turns out — is the fictitious site of a decisive English defeat in the Hundred Years War. In the present day, a team of archaeologists led by Scotsmen Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) and Andre Marek (Gerard Butler) is burrowing deep into Castlegard’s quiet ruins. The dig is so generously funded by a futuristic tech company with no good reason to fund such a project that Professor Johnston concludes his luck is too good to be true.

It is. It gets worse.

Johnston skedaddles to New Mexico to confront his benefactors, International Technology Corp. — such a bland name, but oh-so-sinister.

Meanwhile, back in France, Marek and ace student Kate (Frances O’Connor) tunnel into an undiscovered nook of the buried village and find a cache of artifacts that includes a modern bifocal lens plus a handwritten plea for help from the professor himself. Whoa, now. How’d they get there? Must be some mistake. Someone carbon-date that ink, lickety-split. It’s the professor’s handwriting, all right, and it’s over 600 years old. (In “Timeline,” carbon dating is as quick and easy as a Google search). When ITC fesses up, a passably intriguing movie brakes, skids, crashes and then wheezes on its sparking rims for another long 100 minutes of sophomoric costume pageantry.

Emblematic of this movie’s stupidity is the triple-A-battery-brained pretty boy Paul Walker (“The Fast and the Furious”) playing the professor’s son, Chris. The goldilocked Mr. Walker tries so hard to become a swashbuckling hero, but he never comes close to escaping the riptide that knocked him off his surfboard.

Turns out, ITC’s beneficence was nothing but a self-interested charade. The brave-new-worlders didn’t care about obscure archaeology digs; they just needed some unsuspecting dupes to help them figure out just where it was they’d wormholed to via an accidental penetration into the space-time continuum.

All ITC wanted to do was build a sort of fax machine for three-dimensional objects and put UPS and FedEx out of business. What they did instead was create a time machine — a combination funhouse mirror chamber and Tilt-a-Whirl — that pipelines people to medieval France. Johnston couldn’t resist taking the trip and, for reasons never explained, got stuck in the past, from which he must be retrieved.

As interpreted by director Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon 1, 2, 3, 4,” infinity), “Timeline” is a disastrously fragmented science-fiction fantasy that turns both science and history into bad punch lines. As the archaeology team, outfitted with ticktocky digital “markers,” prepares to go back to rescue Johnston, there’s talk of DNA reconstruction and electron smashing. It all sounds like a freshman Ed Wood reading a science textbook.

“Timeline” introduces a demoralizing new weapon called Greek fire, a concoction that water can’t extinguish. In the 1357 of this movie, Greek fire is an as-yet-undiscovered invention. After a minute of Web snooping, I learn that the stuff had been used centuries before. What gives?

The linguists out there will get a hearty laugh out of “Timeline” when the digging team prevails upon poor Francois (Rossif Sutherland) — what would a movie set in France be without a Francois? — to ride the wormhole because they need a fluent French speaker. Ignored is the huge linguistic gulf between modern French and its medieval ancestor. Doesn’t matter: When they reach the past, all the important Frenchies conveniently speak English.

Smack dab in the middle of a long-forgotten war, “Timeline” is, if nothing else, a humorous reminder of how much the English and the French used to hate each other.

Ultimately, the movie asks way too much of us: It hinges the fate of the mission on a French victory. “Timeline” makes many stupid moves, but that is the stupidest of all.

*1/2

TITLE: “Timeline”

RATING: PG-13 (Intense battle sequences; brief language)

CREDITS: Directed by Richard Donner. Produced by Mr. Donner, Lauren Shuler Donner and Jim Van Wyck. Screenplay by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel. Original music by Brian Tyler.

RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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