[Screen It]


(2021) (Leslie Odom, Jr., Cynthia Erivo) (R)

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Sci-Fi: A man worries that his wife's ex-husband is trying to sabotage their relationship via time travel.

Nick Mikkelsen (LESLIE ODOM, JR.) is an architect who long ago dated Alex Leslie (FREIDA PINTO) but has now been married to Janine (CYNTHIA ERIVO), a photographer, for the past five years. Even so, he's worried that her rich ex-husband, Tommy Hambleton (ORLANDO BLOOM), is trying to sabotage their relationship via traveling back in time. He not only discusses that with Janine who thinks he's overreacting, but also his sister, Zoe (JADYN WONG), and has gone so far as to hire a high-tech company to protect his memories should a time travel ripple change things.

When that does happen and he suddenly finds himself married to Alex while Janine is with Tommy, Nick tries to sort through the confusion that eventually wanes over time. All of which makes him worry that he'll soon forget ever being with Janine and contemplate using time travel himself to get her back.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

I follow a bunch of filmmakers and screenwriters on Twitter and one of them recently offered a piece of advice when it comes to pitching a time travel story. And that was to be prepared to spend the entire meeting explaining the logistics of the time travel elements. Having tried my hand at penning one of those long ago, I can tell you it's a tough slog to try to make such a story pass such questions and potential objections.

In fact, the best advice I ever got about such matters wasn't from another screenwriter, director, or studio employee. It was none other than Basil Exposition (a.k.a. Michael York) when he tells Austin Powers about time travel effects making sense: "I suggest you don't worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself. (He then turns to the camera to look at the viewer) That goes for you all too."

Of course, to make that approach work, the surrounding story needs to be so compelling or simply entertaining that you don't think about the potentially altered timeline logistics, at least not while the film plays out. But if the tale is told in a slow and less than fully engaging manner, that allows such thoughts to creep in and distract one's attention.

Such is the issue with "Needle in a Timestack," writer/director John Ridley's tale about whether love can withstand the test(s) of time (and, natch, traveling back through it), and if one would still find and fall for their soulmate under different conditions.

There's certainly potential aplenty in such questions, and while I usually cut time travel flicks some slack simply from having been there and tried that, I couldn't help but question the logic of what's presented over the course of the nearly two-hour offering.

The tale begins with Janine (Cynthia Erivo) making a recording where she states that love is drawn like a circle, with no clear beginning or end. She's married to Nick (Leslie Odom, Jr.) who questions if they didn't know each other until this moment, would they still fall in love.

It seems that's on his mind due to worrying that her ex-husband, Tommy (Orlando Bloom), is actively trying to get her back. Not through the usual measures such as being her friend, pointing out Nick's flaws, or anything like that, but instead by taking the more sure-fire -- if expensive -- approach of traveling back in time to make sure the divorce and then subsequent falling for Nick never happened.

It seems like a legitimate concern as everyone in Nick's office worries about such changes when a time ripple wave sweeps through their city, meeting room, and them. Over the phone, Janine ensures Nick that nothing has changed, but we immediately note that their pet dog is now suddenly a cat, something Nick sort of seems to realize once he gets home, although he's not entirely sure of that.

After confiding in his sister (Jadyn Wong) about his worries, Nick goes to meet Tommy for some assurances and then hires a company to store his memories for a "just in case" scenario. It's not long after that, however, that another such ripple wave passes through Nick, and when he tries to call Janine, his phone assistant can find no record of her. When he returns to his completely different home, we see that he's married to his girlfriend from before he knew Janine, Alex (Frida Pinto), and has been for some time.

Understandably (at least from our outsider's view, his is a bit fuzzier), he senses that something is off, as does she, but things get better with time. That is, until a fleeting and indecipherable video clip shows up and gets those uncertain feelings going again. All of which has him wondering whether he should do some time travel changes of his own.

The performances are fine across the board, and as I mentioned before, there's potential aplenty in the basic story idea. But things unfold so slowly and never to the point of making me care, that the logistical issues came into enough light to serve as a distraction in showing that things simply don't make sense or stand the test of time travel questions. As a result, "Needle in a Timestack" ends up with a 4 out of 10 score.

Reviewed October 12, 2021 / Posted October 15, 2021

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