Upon learning bad news about his college scholarship, David (played by Jonny Weston) uncovers an old home movie of his fifth birthday. The footage reveals that, while children in 2004 are playing and celebrating his birthday, the 2014 David can be seen lurking in the background (an eerie image the movie is wise to return to often). Coincidentally, David discovers his long gone father left him a time machine in the basement.
The Found Footage movie genre gets another hybrid. After using hand-held, shaky cameras to portray a horror tale (The Blair Witch Project), monster movie (Cloverfield), NASA conspiracy (Apollo 18), children’s fantasy (Earth to Echo), and comic book fantasy (Chronicle), we now have the time travel equivalent.
Weston is a movie star in the making and has the presence and appeal to carry a movie. He’s terrific in the little-seen Juliette Lewis vehicle, Kelly & Cal and brings the required intensity needed here. If his performance (and the movie) does anything right, its conveying the addiction to time traveling, playing God and constantly tinkering with life until it’s “perfect.” The same can’t be said of his co-stars, unfortunately, who are limited at playing one-note high school stereotypes.
Michael Bay is the film’s executive producer, something I could’ve figured out without the end credits telling me. The invasive close ups of teen girls bending over and the ample product placements (particularly the aggressive promotions for Redbull and Petco) are Classic Bay. I can forgive the crass Bay-isms. It’s the use of the time travel angle that the movie especially botches.
While other time travel movies, like Looper and Time Cop, are referenced, we actually see our heroes watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a means of studying up on the subject. Here’s the thing: that movie was meant as a joke. The concept of two lovable but stupid teens using a time machine to pass high school was knowingly absurd. Here, we’re meant to take the story and the emotions on hand seriously, which is a real problem when our lead characters are this idiotic.
At one point, David is about to jump through time alone, something he promised he’d never do. His girlfriend catches him in the act, lectures him and hops through time with him. Despite how they’ve leapt through time together and are in another reality, she, amazingly continues to yell at him.
There’s also the problem of how these teens use the power to alter time: they go to Lollapalooza, get revenge on bullies, act like a know-it-all in Science class and rig the lottery for a small amount of money. Forget Bill and Ted, these are dumbest, least imaginative time travelers I can think of. Here’s a tip on how to use a time machine: try doing something you couldn’t possibly accomplish in your actual lives!
Early on, one of the teens suggest using the time machine to kill Hitler, which his friend quickly brushes off with, “You don’t know any German!” It’s a rare moment where a smart idea pops up: yes, it’d be foolish to travel to WWII-ridden Europe, not know any German and try to assassinate Der Fuhrer. Of course, while David dismisses the idea, due to lacking proficiency in German, he does allow himself multiple montages where, in lieu of perfecting a Let’s Kill Hitler mission, he, instead, time jumps to get Lollapalooza backstage passes. He definitely has his priorities straight.
Project Almanac comes close to exploring some intriguing possibilities. It has an ambitious idea but the payoff is woefully limited. This is what Back to the Future would have been like if Marty McFly time traveled without the help and guidance of Doc Brown. Sorry kids, but if you want to time travel, you need parental guidance.