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Timeline   D+

Paramount Pictures

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Richard Donner
Writers: Jeff Maguire, George Nolfi (based on the novel by Michael Crichton)
Cast: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, Neal McDonough, Ethan Embry, Anna Friel.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Those rare audience members who demand more history mixed in with their mindless action sequences will be incredibly pleased with Richard Donner's Timeline. The rest of you may condemn it as forgettable fiction, a cold and clumsy adaptation of a fiery Michael Crichton page-turner that expends too much energy recreating Camelot but doesn't bother to explain a lot.

The film, as well as the novel, suggests traces of Crichton's far superior Jurassic Park, where experts in a particular scientific field are given the rare opportunity to interact with their academic subjects. This time out, a team of graduate student archeologists are pulled from their research site in France and asked to retrieve their professor, Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly), who disappeared after meeting with the group's financial backers, ITC.

Led by Johnston's son, Chris (Paul Walker), the students confront the ITC eggheads, who hastily explain that, while experimenting with teleportation, they accidentally stumbled onto a wormhole that opened a time door to the year 1357 A.D. Johnston ventured in through the open portal, but has yet to return.

The setup is smart, yet the execution is simplistic. Timeline rockets from confrontation to confrontation with the speed and direction of an amusement park ride, minus the amusement. At least Crichton took his customary stab at explaining his questionable science for the good of the story. Timeline gives us the Cliffs Notes version of the author's best-seller, dumbing down the novel's finer points in favor of lazy plotting and wearisome battle scenes. Screenwriters Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi counter Crichton's wormholes with gaping plot holes and don't seem to care about the hows and whys behind the missions.

By paring down the source, Timeline slices out the already-slim logic that held the historical fantasy together. The least interesting element -- the repetitive and emotionless search and rescue mission -- is all that remains. The cast catapults through the motions, though few people could generate heat from this nonsensical script. They're not given much to work with, though they certainly don't elevate the material to a new level. As expected, Walker stands apart for his inability to act. An absolute blank slate, he couldn't sell a fire extinguisher to a burning bush.

Timeline simultaneously supplies us with a hollow history lesson and an adventure that's about as thrilling as the staged joust at the heart of those traveling Renaissance Festivals. No, that's insulting to the carnies at the Renaissance Fest. Even they have more passion for their material. Plus, at the festival you get a turkey leg to gnaw on, and that's more then you'll get out of this snoozer.

Review published 11.25.2003.

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