Timeline: A Fun Time Frolic

Connolly is a joy on-screen...but even he has a few awkward moments on screen. He easily gets the award for Most Artificial Acting in a Napping Scene.

You won't see any Oscar-winning performances in Timeline, the latest flick based on a Michael Crichton sci-fi novel. Yet, despite some awkward acting and Crichton's trademark forced-plot motion, it's a fun movie that's well worth the time spent in line with the holiday cinema crowd.

First, the basics:

Timeline is yet another time travel story. This one combines the classic "journey to the past" motif with Star Trek's transporter technology. ITC, a high-tech company run by a Bill Gatesian CEO, invents a way to fax three-dimensional objects. To do so, it breaks items apart and puts them back together at the receiving point (and yes, dear Trekkies, that is exactly how the transporter works for the intrepid crew of the Enterprise - so no points to Dr. Crichton for originality there). The twist: the tech team accidentally tapped into a wormhole while testing their device; things can only be taken apart and put back together at either end of the wormhole. One end is in the modern-day ITC lab; the other open in the Dordogne River valley of France in the year 1357, during the Hundred Years' War.

ITC sends an archeologist (Billy Connolly) back - and he promptly gets stuck. His son (Paul Walker) and a motley crew of grad students travel back in time to rescue the good professor.

Connolly is a joy on-screen...and far and away the most seasoned actor in this ensemble, but even he has a few awkward moments on screen. He easily gets the award for Most Artificial Acting in a Napping Scene.

The blame for that readily falls on director Richard Donner; subtlety is the last storytelling tool in his arsenal. Donner, for example, couldn't get more blatant with his foreshadowing in the first ten minutes of the film. Not that the source material gave him much subtlety to work with; Crichton is infamous for plot bumps. We never learn why the British knights who capture our modern-day heroes speak contemporary, instead of Medieval, English. Nor why our heroes' intrepid French interpreter so easily falls into a linguistic death-trap mere moments after their capture. It's hard to have sympathy for him; after all, if the interpreter is that dim, isn't he better off gutted and out of our heroes' way?

Ah, but Donner and Crichton are masters of action. The plot contrivances are barely noticed before the scene moves on to some new and compelling moment. It's terrifically refreshing to see Medieval Europe as it was: grimy, dirty, and tempestuous. And to see the knights who ruled these times with the very same qualities.

This is no smiling-and-clean Errol Flynn swashbuckler. The professor's son -- Chris Johnston (Paul Walker) -- and the other core characters must fight for their lives from the very moment they materialize in the past. Only one rescuer, fellow archeologist Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), holds on to his belief in the romantic ideals of knighthood; that contrasts so much with reality, you can't help but root him on as he stubbornly stays true to those ideals through every sword stroke.

Perhaps Timeline isn't as clean and wholesome as a Flynn swashbuckler, but it has the same matinee fun feel. There are moments to gasp, moments to laugh, and moments to sit on the edge of your seat. And there's not a dull moment once the camera takes us firmly into the past.

This is a movie to add to your holiday season list. While most films are filled with crude humor or deep angst, Timeline is filled with good old fun.