Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT TIME TRAVEL (2009)

After running train on some time travel comedies (Black Knight, Hot Tub Time Machine, the Bill & Ted series), I forgot that they’re allowed to make movies in other countries, too. This brings us to Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, the story of three lads on the piss who pub pint lager bitter quid crisps wanker… oh, bloody hell, I don’t think this blog can handle Region 2 movies. What if every trip to the bathroom left you in a different time period? That guy from The IT Crowd (Chris O’Dowd), two other blokes (Dean Lennox Kelly, Marc Wootton), and Anna Faris (Anna Faris) will find out.

THE STORY:
I certainly can’t say that we haven’t seen this formula before. Three slacker losers have to get their lives right, but they trip and fall into a comedy premise and learn their lesson ninety minutes later. Still, I appreciate this movie for trying to have a plot, considering I was expecting it to be more like Fanboys for the space-time continuum: go get some sort of MacGuffin, but on your way there, reference as many time travel movies as you can without a hint of subtlety because that’s how funny works.

I’ll allow it.

But no, the chaps don’t just run around saying, “I’ll timecop your TARDIS all the way to Hill Valley!” They’re mostly just three Euro-bros out for a night of drinking. Ray (Chris O’Dowd) is a time travel buff and never met a paradox he didn’t like. Toby (Marc Wootton) is a movie lover who aspires to write his own some day. Pete (Dean Lennox Kelly) is a guy. Yeah, they, uh… they didn’t really flesh him out. I’m glad he wasn’t wearing a T-shirt with “EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME” printed on it, though I may have laughed if he was.

So the pub has become unstuck in time and the boys jump around gaining information on the pub’s past and future. Ray tries to help them out with all his knowledge from science fiction and quantum physics books (including the somewhat visually unexciting but logically airtight Just Hide and Don’t Do Anything rule of paradox prevention), but he also has help from Cassie (Anna Faris), a woman from the future who’s come to investigate the time leak.

Also, love interest. Because, you know, female and stuff.

This could have been a premise used solely to crack lame jokes in different time periods, but there’s a mystery woven through it that’s sometimes interesting. As the film progresses, the fellas start to see evidence that they might accomplish something historically significant themselves. This scene is fairly brilliant, so I don’t want to give it away. It’s not as over-the-top as Bill & Ted, but it’s a nice extra layer to the story.

Oh, then there’s a villain, and… yeah. It kind of falls apart. And the time travel rules don’t make sense. But do they ever, am I right, let’s move on, OH MY GOD I DREW SO MANY CHARTS WANTING THIS TO WORK BEFORE I GAVE UP.

THE ACTING:
Okay, Brits, or whatever term includes all of you (United Kings?), I need to level with you as an American from the land of the deep-fried eagle nugget: you can pretty much say “butter knife” over and over again and I will laugh at it. Ninety percent of my friends will too. Your accents are so friggin’ infectious, and our introduction to subversive humor was Monty Python. All of us. The first actually good joke we ever heard was in a British accent.

“Buttah noif.” “Betta neyf.” “Burta nawf.”

That said, I found everyone in the film charming and humourous. I especially related to Ray, who is proud of his knowledge of time travel but is never a complete dick about it. His chemistry with Cassie did make me melt when he quizzed her on paradoxes. Awww. Nerd love.

Yeah, okay, there’s finally a movie about people like me. If Ray had a blog, there would be a Time Out section.

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Yeah, we’re looking at Doctor Who levels of effects wizardry.

Eccleston Who, specifically.

For this story, though, it isn’t a huge problem. There are some future sight gags that look really cheesy, but maybe that helps sell the joke.

Oh, also, have we come so far with green screen and motion control technology that I don’t even notice when time-clones are flawless any more? The camera moves all over the place while there are multiples and I didn’t even bother to praise it in my notes. Good work, everybody.

Yawn, wake me when the pub turns into a robot.

OTHER STUFF:

  • At one point, our heroes come out of a theater showing Watch the Skies, Paradox, and A Boy’s Life, which you may recognize as the working titles of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Back to the Future Part II, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I doubt anyone nerdy enough to get this joke without looking it up (me) could avoid spending the next twenty minutes trying to work out if it’s just a gag or if it’s an indicator that this is supposed to take place in an alternate universe (also me).

  • Everyone from the future has an American accent. It’s only mentioned once and never fully explained. Cheeky.

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
What really makes the dynamic work in the film is that Ray knows his shit and Toby has some general knowledge, but Pete is absolutely clueless. When Pete asks the rules, Ray and Toby blast him with every time travel scenario imaginable until he finally cracks.

“Okay… don’t kill anything, don’t fuck anything… what else?”

FINAL THOUGHTS:
First of all, if you’re a cowboy-hat-wearing American, you’re going to need a region-free DVD player, as FAQATT has not been given an official home video release in the states. (Or you can attempt something called a “load-down” on the torrential uplinker Pirate Face.) Is it worth all the trouble? If you’re obsessed with time travel and comedy from across the pond like myself, yes, get on it. Otherwise… yes still? Maybe? I don’t know, you guys, I really enjoyed a few scenes and I let loose some laughs, but the sum of these parts wasn’t quite enough for me to recommend it to Joe Q. Average. Or Nigel P. Commoner. And if you just love arguing about time travel rules, keep this screenshot handy when your nerd pals get into a fistfight over the ending, because you’re in for a Where’s Waldo? second viewing of immutable/mutable details…

THIS FRAME CHANGES EVERYTHING. Bollocks.

NEXT WEEK:
Willis Week! La jetée (1962), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Disney’s The Kid (2000), Looper (2012)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.