The story is typical Michael Critchon hooey, only shorn of all the techno-speak which his books use to cloud the sheer implausibility of their central conceits. An archaeological group on a dig in France finds a couple of interesting artifacts: one is a modern-day bifocal lens, the other a note from the dig's leader, Prof. Ed Johnston (Connolly), which is in his handwriting but dates from the 14th century. Just as this is discovered, the gang (mostly young attractive archaeologists and Walker, who was just there visiting his dad) is all summoned back to the desert headquarters of ITC, the big firm that's funding their dig. There, ITC's boss (David Thewlis, long MIA from Hollywood films) says that they've discovered how to send people back in time through a freakily-discovered wormhole to a spot in France circa 1357, and oh yeah, that they sent Johnston back there a couple days ago, he hasn't returned and they're starting to get worried about him. You see, that particular part of the world was at that time embroiled in a battle between the French and the English, meaning that there were lots of angry men on horses riding about looking for people to practice one-sided swordplay on.
So, faster than you can say "unprepared," Walker and the archeologists get zapped to 1357 (the process is only vaguely explained and has something to do with "faxing" three-dimensional objects), along with a few ITC heavies. Of course, they can't bring any weapons and only one of them speaks French, a nervous nellie by the name of Francois (Rossif Sutherland), who might as well have been named Pepe and made to wear a beret. They've barely arrived in the past when English soldiers kill just about every useful member of the party. After which follows a number of near escapes and much unintentionally Monty Python-esque running about in silly outfits, all leading up to that night's climactic battle, when the French assault the castle the English are fortified in. The battle itself is an initially gripping affair, with flaming projectiles arcing through the night sky - Why would a medieval army fight at night, when they couldn't see? Because that's when fiery arrows look cooler, dummy! - but it's curtailed in a rather baffling manner.
In your average Timecop-styled adventure, the whole point of going back to the past is to stop some event from happening and drastically altering history. But since the driving force behind Timeline has nothing to do with history but rather an attempt by the more attractive members of the cast to save an old guy who the audience was barely introduced to, and then to survive themselves, there's barely an ounce of tension in all the medieval hugger-mugger. There is, however, quite a good deal of campy ridiculousness which makes the first hour ludicrous but in a might enjoyable way before it starts taking itself seriously.
The cast is pretty much useless, with the exceptions of Connolly, Thewlis, and Michael Sheen, who plays an English Lord having a jolly good time during the Hundred Years' War (his character is a bit ridiculous but a nevertheless welcome addition, as he's the only guy on screen who seems to be having any fun). Even Richard Donner's direction is pretty lackluster, proving again that he needs an iconic character to hang a film on, be it Mel Gibson or even Rutger Hauer in Ladyhawke, his other medieval film, a sentimental movie but still many times more entertaining than this pallid mess. Paul Walker is not that icon.
The new DVD boast over an hour of bonus material, residing in two featurettes about the making of the film. Needless to say, you're going to have to be a huge fan of the film in order to want to sit through them.
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 26th November 2003
Box Office USA: $19.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $19.5M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Mutual Film Company, Donners' Company, Cobalt Media Group, Artists Production Group (APG)
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 12%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 123
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Paul Walker as Chris Johnston, Frances O'Connor as Kate Ericson, Gerard Butler as Andre Marek, Billy Connolly as Professor E.A. Johnston, David Thewlis as Robert Doniger, Anna Friel as Lady Claire, Neal McDonough as Frank Gordon, Matt Craven as Steven Kramer, Ethan Embry as Josh Stern, Michael Sheen as Lord Oliver, Lambert Wilson as Lord Arnaut, Marton Csokas as Sir William De Kere / William Decker, Rossif Sutherland as François Dontelle, David La Haye as Arnaut's Deputy, Steve Kahan as Baker
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