Timeline

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Timeline

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In the Ray Bradbury short story "A Sound Of Thunder," a company offers big-game hunters the opportunity to travel back in time hunting animals. Like any thoughtful piece of science fiction, the story has rules: Hunters must kill animals already fated to die at the moment of the hunt, leave nothing of the future behind in the past, take nothing from the past into the future, and stay on carefully selected paths so as not to harm any other wildlife. All goes well until one hunter strays from a path and crushes a butterfly, illustrating the delicate construction of time and fate by starting a chain reaction that alters the future. Bradbury's butterfly conundrum rests at the center of any smart time-travel story, but the witless Michael Crichton adaptation Timeline doesn't spend much time addressing it. Why worry about butterflies when so many skulls and castle walls are available for crushing? It would be one thing if Timeline knew it was a dumb movie, but it seems not to. Through talk about wormholes, teleportation devices, the physical perils of time travel, and 14th-century history, it at least tries to present the illusion of smarts. But after a while, it becomes all too obvious that Timeline is simply biding its time, waiting for the big action finale. In an unlikely bit of father-and-son casting, The Fast And The Furious mannequin Paul Walker stars as the son of an archeologist played by Scottish funnyman Billy Connolly. Prone to grumbling sentiments like "None of you archeologists look to the future," Walker has no intention of following in his father's footsteps, until a wild time-travel accident forces him to search for Connolly in 14th-century France. (Is there a Middle English word for "dude"?) Also along for the ride: pretty archeologist Frances O'Connor, assorted other scientists, and some representatives from one of those evil corporations that invariably populate Crichton's works. Richard Donner directs, but it's the lazy director of Lethal Weapon 4 who shows up, and not the craftsman of Superman or even Lethal Weapon 2. Until Timeline reaches its flaming-trebuchet-siege finale–which should impress anyone who's never seen The Two Towers–it has the stirring production values of an episode of the Tia Carrere action series Relic Hunter, but with only a fraction of the acting talent and intellectual heft.

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