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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Donner’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published in the 18th December 2003 Christmas issue:

My friends, the season of good cheer is upon us once again, and while it might be all too tempting to simply sit back, loosen the belt, watch the Queen’s speech and fall asleep in front of the Christmas Day Bond film (Tomorrow Never Dies, probably Brosnan’s weakest outing to date, but not without its moments), I would like you to take a moment to consider people less fortunate than we are. This is a time for caring and giving, and to this end I would like to launch the inaugural 24LAS appeal.

Yes, I would like us all to join forces and write to Amnesty in the hopes of securing the release of a talented young actor from the seemingly endless stream of crappy films he’s been in recently. Let’s call him Gerard Butler (mainly because that’s his name). Sure, he’s responsible for his own choices, as are we all, but Gerard’s problem is that he seems to be cursed with an unerring instinct for rotten scripts, something quite at odds with his impressive charisma and screen presence. Recently he’s popped up in Reign of Fire and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life, while lurking further down his CV are things like Dracula 2000 and Talos the Mummy (funnily enough he had an itty bitty part in Tomorrow Never Dies, too). You see my point. Nobody deserves that kind of luck.

And the final straw stirring me to action is Richard Donner’s Timeline, a tram-smash of a picture that (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor) does all but pluck and baste itself, extract its own giblets and climb into the oven. Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, whose cinematic pedigree is wildly inconsistent (on the one hand, Westworld, on the other, Congo), this is the tale of a bunch of variously dull and implausible archaeologists led by Billy Connolly. Yes, alarm bells are already starting to ring, aren’t they? Billy goes AWOL and his students (accompanied by his plank-like goon of an American son) discover his specs and a note pleading for help walled up in a French crypt that hasn’t been touched since the mid-14th century.

Yup, with the aid of a slimy cable-knit-sweater-wearing tycoon (David Thewlis, phoning it in) Billy has apparently faxed himself back to 1357 or thenabouts and it’s up to his son, his son’s girlfriend, Gerard, steely-eyed ex-marine Neal McDonough (whom you may recall from Band of Brothers or Minority Report), some French guy, and basically a couple of blokes in red shirts, to go back and fetch him. The mechanics of time travel are, quite properly, not explained, but seem to involve much use of mirrors (and possibly static electricity).

Once back in ye olden days, our heroes proceed to behave exactly like package tourists everywhere – bothering the locals, being rude about the accommodation, and generally acting ungrateful – ‘there’s one thing worse than dying in France,’ announces the leading lady, ‘and that’s living there.’ Inevitably they get mixed up in the Hundred Years War, specifically a seemingly-pointless feud between nasty Englishman Michael Sheen and noble Frenchman Lambert Wilson. Both Sheen and Wilson have given quality turns elsewhere this year (in Underworld and Matrix Reloaded respectively) but here bad dialogue and worse wigs scupper all their efforts. Wilson is saddled with Anna Friel as his sister, and her French accent appears to originate from somewhere just west of Walthamstow.

Well, as you can probably gather, this film really is a piece of crap. The script seems to be a homage to a 1970s children’s TV serial, and – impressively – manages to be simultaneously predictable and logically unsound. History apparently gets changed without anyone noticing, subplots appear and disappear rather capriciously, and the film spends lots of time emphasising certain points only to casually contradict itself only seconds later.

And the worst of it is, is that Gerard seems to be giving up hope of ever appearing in something classy. In Reign of Fire and Cradle of Life he made a distinct impression – but here his performance is never more than okay. That’s no bad thing, especially considering many of his co-stars are epically awful. Special mention must be made of Billy Connolly’s staggeringly terrible performance, which eventually just consists of him wandering about with a look of boggle-eyed consternation on his face as he shouts his dialogue. But we should arrange to have Gerard airlifted away from all this as soon as possible. Just send me your blank cheques and I’ll sort it all out.

Even so, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a turkey, and perhaps a little compassion wouldn’t go amiss. Okay: Timeline is irredeemably rotten, but it has some reasonable cinematography and a quite diverting siege sequence. But if sieges and swordplay are your thing, just now you can probably find better, and better value for money, somewhere else. See you all in the New Year.

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