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Weak acting, plot keeps 'Timeline' from ticking with audiences

December 1, 2003

What do you get when you have five gallons of ice cream and one gallon of manure?

Well, it's either something you won't eat, or the new Richard Donner film, "Timeline."

The trouble begins when a mysterious technology company funds a group of archaeologists on a dig in Europe. Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) becomes curious about the company's motives and leaves the dig to find out why the company is funding them.

While he is gone, the students find a note for help written by Johnston hundreds of years ago. They decide to go to the company and find out where he has gone.

The company president informs the group that their professor was sent back in time through a wormhole and now they must head back to find him.

Just where did Donner, the director who made great films such as "Maverick," "The Goonies" and "Superman" go wrong? Well, when the finest actor in your film was a teacher on "Head of the Class," you have to know something isn't going to jive with audiences.

And the characters' one dimensional and often stereotypical personalities are bland, boring and will bring only yawns as the audience struggles to find a reason to care about their predicament.

For example, in the first few scenes, there is the romance between Chris Johnston (Paul Walker) and Kate Erickson (Frances O'Connor). Chris, the professor's son, is without a doubt the least likable character and is played by the worst actor in the film. Throughout "Timeline," he frets over the safety of Erickson, who could probably kick his butt with one arm tied behind her back. Do we care that she can't love him because he is the professor's son? No. Do we care if they survive? Only if they owe us money.

The other romance in the story is between André Marek (Gerard Butler) and Lady Claire (Anna Friel). Not only is this a more interesting and lively love story, but the two actors are superior to the other lovebirds.

That isn't to say there aren't problems stemming from this turn in the plot. Marek's knowledge of medieval times and his love of their weapons creates a much better hero, but not anything we haven't seen before. And the mysterious time traveler finding love with a beautiful maiden of the past - that has been the plot of just about every time-travel flick, even "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."

Of course, maybe I wouldn't be so angry if the obese guy sitting one person away from me hadn't shared the ending with everyone in earshot of him because he read Crichton's book of the same name. But then again, it's surprising to see anyone wearing a University of Michigan sweatshirt not only say he read a book, but to have actually followed through on the task.

Without a doubt though, the real star of this film is Donner. The director gives hope for many filmgoers who don't enjoy the recent deluge of CGI (computer graphics imaging) films. Very little in the picture is done with special effects, instead leaving it to stunt men, stunt coordinators and the construction of a real castle.

Donner's own refusal to be a part of this new wave of special effects films shows there are some filmmakers who see it as something to use sparsely, like a good spice, instead of drowning a good steak in A1 Steak Sauce.

Even the action isn't enough to save this lackluster flick. There is nothing new to "Timeline," only more rehashed plot mixed in with some swashbuckling. You might find yourself on the edge of your seat in this repeated update of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," but you'll have a tough time getting there.

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