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"CLOCKSTOPPERS"
(2002) (Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-fi/Adventure: A teenager tries to avoid various villains who want a special watch sent to his father that can essentially freeze time and thus anyone and everything around its wearer.
PLOT:
Zak Gibbs (JESSE BRADFORD) is a normal teenager who lives with his dad, George (ROBIN THOMAS), mom, Jenny (JULIA SWEENEY), and younger sister, Kelly (LINDZE LETHERMAN). When not hanging out with his best friend, Danny Meeker (GARIKAYI MUTAMBIRWA), or being upset that his father, a college science professor, pays more attention to his work and students than his kids, Zak constantly thinks about getting his dream car, a convertible Mustang.

There's also Francesca (PAULA GARCES), the attractive new student from Venezuela at his school with whom he's instantly smitten, although the feelings aren't initially mutual. Yet, he eventually wins her over and goes to visit her at her home where she puts him to work. It's there that he accidentally activates a watch he found at home that one of George's former students, Dr. Earl Dopler (FRENCH STEWART), had sent him to research.

It seems that the watch accelerates its wearer and anyone they're touching to such an accelerated rate that everyone and everything else around them appears to come to a near frozen standstill. Dopler had been working with Henry Gates (MICHAEL BIEHN) at QT Laboratories in conjunction with the NSA, but now wants out, particularly since his and Gates' experiments have left him prematurely aged.

Not knowing this, Zak and Francesca pull several pranks on various people by physically moving them or altering their surroundings while "frozen." They then call it a day, but upon returning home, Zak discovers Gates' minions in his house, snooping around. After a close call with them, he then escapes, meets Dopler and then gets help from Francesca as he sets out to find his father who he hopes will be able to help them.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
What kid, or adult for that matter, hasn't wished they could stop or at least slow down time? I'm not really talking about how fast the days, months and years go by as one gets older, but rather in regards to individual moments that occur in one's life.

Whether it's being able to buy time to figure out how to get out of a lie, avoid an oncoming traffic accident or simply take the time to enjoy a particularly joyous or special moment a bit longer, lost or missed time and/or the need to think fast or make a split second decision could be forever nullified if time could be controlled. Of course, that would also allow for the ability to observe people more carefully or pull anonymous practical jokes on others who would appear frozen or at least severely impaired from a motion perspective.

While the concept might sound intriguing, it's not original as author John D. MacDonald previously explored it in his 1962 novel "The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything," (which was made into a 1980 TV film starring Robert Hays and Pam Dawber). The original "Star Trek" TV series also played around with a related notion in "Wink of An Eye" where various characters were sped up to such a rate/frequency that they appeared to vanish (and sounded like a buzz) to those who appeared frozen in relation to them.

The concept now returns as the driving force behind "Clockstoppers," a moderately enjoyable if not particularly smart or imaginative film that's aimed squarely at kids and should intrigue and/or entertain at least some of them in concept and/or execution.

As directed by Jonathan Frakes ("Star Trek: Insurrection," "Star Trek: First Contact) - who works from a script by Rob Hedden (Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan") and J. David Stem & David N. Weiss ("Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie") - the picture includes the expected elements of such a story including pranks, comedy and adventure, and mixes them together into something that's somewhat of a teen-based combination of "Spy Kids" and "Back to the Future."

Unfortunately, it doesn't have the same fun or infectious spirit as either film. Beyond a few benign pranks and the standard villains and related action, the picture feels too cautious and inert in overall tone. Despite the premise and various "frozen" special effects, there's little magic or wonder to the proceedings, something that a film like this practically cries out for.

Above and beyond the somewhat reserved tone and approach, the biggest problem is that the filmmakers aren't overly imaginative in taking the sped up/slowed down temporal aspect beyond the initial story concept.

I can only imagine the havoc teenagers would wreak on the world if they could essentially stop time. Here, there are some initial pranks and an unnecessary and unsatisfying deejay contest, but none of that is overly inventive or fun to behold. Rather than take the material down a less traveled cinematic path or taking the time to define and then follow the logic and rules of how the special watch works, the filmmakers instead opt to include the standard, obligatory villains, their diabolical plans and some related action, adventure and mild peril.

While that might entrance younger viewers if they've never seen such a story, those who have - especially older teens or adults in tow - will find such moments repetitive and redundant. That's especially true considering that the filmmakers don't allow the characters to use the temporal device at hand in creative, entertaining or memorable ways.

As the leads, Jesse Bradford ("Bring It On," "Romeo + Juliet") and Paula Garces ("Harvest," "Dangerous Minds") are charismatic and attractive enough - they reminded me of young versions of Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates (from "Gremlins") - to appease the film's target audience even if the characters aren't anything particularly notable (although boys will probably enjoy seeing Garces as a piece of eye candy in her various midriff-revealing tops or wrapped in just a bath towel in an unnecessarily sensationalistic moment).

Robin Thomas ("The Contender," "Jade") plays the standard father who's too busy for his son, and Julia Sweeney ("Stuart Little," "It's Pat") doesn't get much of a chance to do anything with her character beyond a brief and rather mild running gag about her "cooking."

French Stewart ("Love Stinks," TV's "3rd Rock From the Sun") shows up as the inventor who gets the family tangled up in his mess. While thankfully not as grating as he often is in certain roles, the actor is hampered by an unimaginatively drawn character (the filmmakers don't even do much with his accelerated aging beyond a brief joke at the end of the film).

Meanwhile, Garikayi Mutambirwa ("Bones," "Winning London") mostly disappears after a while and Michael Biehn ("The Art of War," "Aliens") embodies the usual villain and was possibly given the part due to looking ever more like Robert Patrick ("Spy Kids") who may have already been booked and/or tired of playing such one-dimensional roles.

Beyond one brief "insider" "Star Trek" joke, the former Commander Riker and his screenwriting team simply don't have enough fun with the material to make it the engaging, exciting and magical film it wants and deserves to be. While it's certainly not horrible and some less discerning kids will probably enjoy it, the film doesn't do enough with the time allotted to it to make its offerings anything particularly special or memorable. Accordingly, "Clockstoppers" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 23, 2002 / Posted March 29, 2002


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