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Starring Gerard Butler, Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor and Billy Connolly. Directed by Richard Donner. Written by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi. Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Jim Van Wyck and Richard Donner. A Paramount release. SF/Action. Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences and brief language. Running time: 115 min.
So forgettable one almost needs a time machine to retrieve plot details, "Timeline" takes us back not to any interesting historical event or pivotal development in world culture, but to yet another siege at yet another medieval castle. We're in 1387 France because the head of an archaeological dig, Professor Johnston ("The Last Samurai's" Billy Connolly), has been transported there by the greedy company funding the excavation, International Technology Corp., via what's described as a 3-D fax machine hooked up to a wormhole. Johnston's faithful students (Gerard Butler, Frances O'Connor) and son (Paul Walker) are recruited to find him and bring him back, with the help of a slimy exec and a couple of Marines for good measure. They all get into what resembles a hall of mirrors installed in a carnival spin ride and proceed to endure one of the lamest renderings of traversing the time-space continuum on cinematic record.
Once they've reached their destination, landing smack-dab in the middle of a war between the English and the French, some of the expendable characters are quickly slaughtered by (apparently) evil British soldiers while the rest rampantly mess with the past as they see fit in order to save their beloved mentor (and themselves). Not that this has any bearing on anything; despite being named "Timeline," the film has nothing to do with such scientific and ethical quandaries as changing the future, creating paradoxes or tearing the fabric of existence; these folks wantonly pull the wings off of the Butterfly Effect just to rescue one man (losing several more in the process). The stakes have the potential to be far more significant: A British aide-de-camp turns out to be a former International Tech employee who's defected to the past and is determined to earn wealth and power through any means necessary. But he's just a minor obstacle for the heroes, instead of a force that's, say, adversely affecting the present by altering the past. Even without more global repercussions on the line, the story could have been more compelling if the protagonists were able to incorporate the advantage of modern knowledge into their strategies more dramatically and imaginatively instead of just running around, getting captured, escaping unspectacularly and running around some more, exchanging unconvincing looks and lines that fall flat or simply hang there. This sci-fi adventure, based on a similarly flawed Michael Crichton novel, is missing at least two of its promised four dimensions.