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Posts Tagged ‘Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel’

Now, I’ve nothing against low-budget genre movies, especially British ones, and I’m always prepared to give one a chance. But the sad fact remains that sitting down to watch one is on some level the equivalent of loading a single bullet into your revolver, spinning the chamber and putting the barrel to your forehead. If it’s meant to be a comedy, you may as well stick a few more bullets in there from the start.

Possibly I am exaggerating – watching a bad movie is not quite the same thing as suicide, although particularly grim ones might lead one to momentarily contemplate it. Nevertheless this is the kind of unpromising terrain which we enter when we consider Gareth Carrivick’s 2009 low-budget British SF comedy Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. Many of the films of this type seem to have been made with one eye on Shaun of the Dead, but the shadow of Wright and Pegg’s classic hangs over this film more than most.

Chris O’Dowd plays Ray, Dean Lennox Kelly plays Greg, and Marc Wootton plays Toby, three friends who work at a theme park. Ray and Toby are geeks, Greg is a lad. One night they go down the pub where they bicker as usual – but when Ray goes to the bar he meets Cassie (Anna Faris), a woman claiming to be a time traveller from the future, who expresses delight at meeting someone as destined to be famous as Ray one day will be.

He is cynical, to say nothing of his friends’ reaction when he returns to them and reports what has happened. However, things take a decidedly peculiar turn when Greg discovers a hole in the space-time continuum located in the pub toilets: every time they go into the gents, they emerge at a different point in history. Can they get back to their point of origin before a significant juncture in the web of destiny known as Last Orders?

If Shaun of the Dead is a George Romero movie set in the London suburbs, Attack the Block is an alien invasion horror film set on a sink estate, and Storage 24 is Alien in a self-storage warehouse, then Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is… well, one thing you have to say for this film is that it is original in cinematic terms. The time-travel plot is impressively convoluted and recursive and, up to a point, holds together pretty well, and if I was going to indulge in a lazy comparison – oh, go on, indulge me – I’d say it was an attempt at a comedy version of Primeval set in a pub toilet.

This is obviously a very low-budget movie and this appears to have constrained the production accordingly – the vast majority of it occurs on the same handful of sets and your actual proper visual effects are used very sparingly indeed (probably just as well, as the CGI used in a couple of places is frankly dodgy). This does seem to have spurred the creativity of the film-makers, although they do seem to have fallen into the trap of trying to make three films at the same time – this doesn’t just want to be a SF romp, there are moments aspiring to be proper drama and a somewhat putrid rom-com element too.

Nevertheless, once the time travel stuff got going the story was inventive and pacy enough to keep me interested – this was quite an achievement given the depths of appalled horror the opening sequence instilled in me, for it genuinely led me to anticipate another disaster on the scale of Lesbian Vampire Killers or Sex Lives of the Potato Men. It opens with a main character acting like a moronic tool for no reason other than to facilitate a deeply unfunny gag, then goes on to introduce us to three mates who – based on their personalities and interests – appear to have no reason to be actual friends.

We see them coming out of a cinema, whereupon one of them cries ‘That was a shit movie!’ – at which point I thought the whole undertaking was displaying a dangerous lack of self-awareness. There follows a section where the film appears to attempt to establish its SF credentials – or, to put it another way, suck up to the fanboy audience. There are pat references to Doctor Who, Firefly, role-playing games and so on, but it all feels a bit crowbarred in rather than genuinely felt – and the presence of Greg, who cheerfully mocks all of these things, just suggests the film is trying to cover its bets by appealing to the geek and mundane audiences simultaneously.

I’m not sure either of them will have really enjoyed this film; I thought it was okay but certainly no better than that. There are a handful of reasonable jokes and the performances of the leads are decent (bussed-in American and expat Canadian stars Faris and Meredith MacNeill are a bit more variable), but the internal logic of the story is never quite as rigorous as it really needs to be. The originality and resourcefulness of the time travel plotline makes this film worth watching if you like that sort of thing, but there’s not much else here for a more mainstream audience.

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