Back in the early 1970s, far-fetched kiddie caper matinees came out almost every other week. They were low-budget, weakly-plotted, G-rated adventures in which clever pubescents and/or teenagers outsmarted cartoonishly nefarious adults who worked for the government or a Big Mean Corporation and were always were up to no good.
These movies were hit-and-miss throwaway fare like "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (featuring teenage Kurt Russell), "Candleshoe" (teenage Jodie Foster) and "Escape from Witch Mountain." But they had a certain cheap charm that seems to be making a colorful, high-tech comeback in films like "Spy Kids," "Big Fat Liar" and the new kids-with-gadgets escapade "Clockstoppers."
This one stars Jesse Bradford (bewitched by Kirsten Dunst in "Bring It On") as Zak, a resourceful high schooler (he sells garage-sale finds on eBay to save for a car) who gets his hands on an experimental wristwatch that can speed up his molecules to the point where time seems to stand still for the rest of the world.
Zak discovers that bringing the beautiful Francesca (Paula Garces) into "hyper-time" with him is a great first date, taking her around town on a pranking spree and watching bumble bees flap their wings in super-duper slow-motion. But Zak soon finds out that the watch -- which he found in the basement workshop of his workaholic physics professor pop -- is AWOL from a government contractor's secret lab. There are bad guys that want it back, and they can move in hyper-time too.
Soon Zak and Francesca are being chased through hyper-time and real-time while they also try to rescue Zak's dad from the baddies, who have kidnapped him to finish their experiments after their first snatched scientist (French Stewart) escaped.
Directed by "Star Trek: The Next Generation" alumni Jonathan Frakes (who also helmed the last two "Trek" films), "Clockstoppers" may be riddled with small plot holes that require the contrivance of convenient air ducts to crawl away from. It may be saddled with don't-think-too-hard nonsense like elevators and cars that work in hyper-time when nothing else does. It certainly has a host of other nit-picky problems (why make Francesca a foreign exchange student if Garces can't even hold an accent for an entire scene?).
But the flick is infused with entertaining energy and it's written with an adult-friendly crispness that's especially rare in movies aimed squarely at pre-teens (this one is produced by Nickelodeon).
Frakes gets fun performances out of his eclectic cast, especially the funny French Stewart ("3rd Rock from the Sun") who is acting instead of mugging for a change as he helps the kids sneak into the bad guys' HQ, carrying customized paint guns filled with liquid nitrogen pellets that freeze hyper-time baddies back to real-time. The director also explores family bonding territory without getting preachy and lends the film a hipness that its 20th Century predecessors never had with the use of cool special effects and an even cooler soundtrack (Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, The Dandy Warhols).
He even earns "Clockstoppers" a careful PG rating so image-conscience kids won't think they're too cool to see it, but does so without the usual gross-out gags and other gimmicky accouterments that bring such pictures down to an intelligence-insulting level. (I'd guess it was the shot of Garces in a towel that did the trick.)
"Clockstoppers" is no children's classic, and it's not trying to be. But as Saturday matinee fodder, it might just be part of a new wave of fond memories for today's far more movie-savvy kids.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 29th March 2002
Box Office USA: $36.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $38.8M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Valhalla Motion Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 60
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Starring: Jesse Bradford as Zak Gibbs, Paula Garcés as Francesca, Robin Thomas Grossman as Dr. Gibbs, French Stewart as Dr. Earl Dopler, Michael Biehn as Henry Gates, Julia Sweeney as Jenny Gibbs, Garikayi Mutambirwa as Meeker, Lindze Letherman as Kelly Gibbs, Jason George as Richard
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