The wonderful thing about working in the science-fiction genre is that, within reason, you get to make up the rules. A good storyteller can work outside the box and still suspend disbelief. Don’t expect either from “Timeline,” a time travel action-adventure that, excuse me while I take the low road, is a waste of time.

The storyteller here is Richard Donner, the venerable director who proved a man could fly with “Superman,” and made Mel Gibson a “Lethal Weapon.” It’s been five years (1998’s “Lethal Weapon 4”) since Donner has been behind a camera, and while “Timeline” might have seemed like a good idea at the time, it hardly ranks among his most engaging efforts (“Ladyhawke,” “The Goonies,” “The Omen”).

Based on Michael Crichton’s best-seller, “Timeline” suffers from an extremely ordinary and frequently ludicrous screenplay by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, a silly exercise in make believe that stretches the boundaries of logic beyond all comprehension. It’s here where a great storyteller would be able to make all of this matter, to take paper thin characters and give them depth, yet Donner isn’t up to the challenge.

Who can blame him? With its paint-by-number plotting and soulless characters, “Timeline” feels more like an episode of “Star Gate” than a feature film. The best time travel films deal with the element of discovery, where both the traveler and the audience get to share in the same sense of wonderment. No such luck in “Timeline,” where the time travelers, a group of student archaeologists and their military back-up, are experts on their 1357 French destination. So instead of their destination serving as a living, breathing textbook, it becomes nothing more than a staging ground for the film’s lackluster battle and action scenes.

Paul Walker heads up a mostly forgettable cast, playing the son of an archaeologist who mysteriously takes leave and then disappears during an expedition at a famous battle site in France. When Chris (Walker) learns that a powerful corporation has sent his father back in time, he agrees to lead his fellow students (who are, of course, all experts in their various fields) and a small contingent of military mite (each and every one disposable) back in time to rescue his father.

Of course things don’t go as planned, and with the window back to the present quickly shrinking, Chris and his modern marauders must use their combined talents to beat the clock. Thank goodness one of those talents isn’t musical theater, because all that’s missing from “Timeline” is a song and dance number.

MEDIEVAL TORTUREPast meets present in tiresome Timeline


Paul Walker, Frances O’Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, David Thewlis. Directed by Richard Donner. Rated PG-13. 116 Minutes.


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