Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Sound of Thunder

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Lesson No. 23 from Hollywood: Time travel’s a bitch. Just about every cinematic excursion into the fourth dimension ends up mucking up the present or future so irreversibly that the characters vow to never jump in their transporter pods again, and leave the history of the world exactly as it was. In other words: Yawn.

Bashfully ducking into theaters this week is this latest time-travel-is-bad-for-you lesson, directed by longtime hack Peter Hyams (End of Days, The Musketeer) and starring longtime nonentity Ed Burns (Confidence, Life or Something Like It). Chintzy, convoluted and half-assed in general, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see on the Sci-Fi channel in the middle of the night, and the only people who will pay nine bucks for it are the few hardcore nerds.

Based on a Ray Bradbury short story, the film faults Time Safari, a late-21st century company that makes its millions by selling prehistoric thrill rides to the rich and famous. Run by flamboyant, greedy entrepreneur Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley), the company employs a fast-talking crew of explorers to accompany millionaires back to the Mesozoic era, where team leader Travis Ryer (Burns) allows them to fire some super-soaker-looking ray guns at a T. Rex or two.

The weekend warriors get their money’s worth, Hatton makes a mint and everyone keeps saying, “It’s bulletproof, nothing can go wrong,” which means that something will go wrong within the first 15 minutes of the movie. Once one little thing in the past is tampered with, the history of evolution changes, and it’s up to Ryer to “make things right.” But first, of course, he has to contend with all the evolutionary mistakes wandering the streets of his neighborhood.

Aside from a couple of cool flying gorilla-sloth-dinosaur things, there aren’t many stunning visions. The actors wander around in front of computer-generated backdrops, never stopping to interact with the two-dimensional special effects on display. They climb into cheap-looking contraptions that resemble Cedar Point rides from 1985. The visuals would be excusable if the movie had any interesting concepts to put forth, but most of it manages to be both convoluted and boneheaded.

It isn’t half as fun or inventive as the episode of The Simpsons in which Homer messes around with prehistoric insects and inadvertently makes donuts rain from the sky in present day. Worse, none of the actors seems to know what to do with the dialogue — except for Kingsley, who apparently bides his time between Oscar nominations in genre crap like this. Wearing weird double-breasted suits and a wig of tall white hair, he dashes around like a game show host eager for the next contestant, a sort of a futuristic Bob Barker. It’s nice to know that at least one person involved with this turkey had some fun; the audience sure as hell won’t.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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