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.
TICKING CLOCK (2011)
Investigative reporter Lewis Hicks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) finds his girlfriend murdered and chases down the killer, Keech (Neal McDonough), as he flees the scene. Keech mysteriously vanishes, and when the cops think Lewis is lying about the whole thing, he takes up the task of catching the guy himself. When he sends some fingerprints from the crime scene to a lab, he’s told they belong to an 11-year-old boy named James (Austin Abrams). What the huh???
Warning: You’ll get more out of this review if you’ve seen Looper. I’m saying don’t read this until you’ve seen Looper. Because this shitty movie forced me to talk about Looper. Also, you should see Looper. Also, Looper.
If you boil down the most basic elements of this film’s plot, there’s a good story here. Lewis is trying to stop a time-traveling killer and realizes that he’s just a boy in the present day. Wonderful, sounds great, I’m on board. Unfortunately, in the fleshing-out process, they somehow managed to ruin just about every scene. The dialogue, the character interactions, the important details… they all take the narrative from compelling to laughable. Think of it like the difference between “man buys car for wife” and “naked man buys clown car for dead wife.”
Don’t get any ideas for Boat Trip 2.
For example, take the scene where Lewis and James spend a day at the zoo together. Lewis has just discovered that the kid’s prints are at the crime scene and wants to rule him out of the investigation. On paper, “man talks to boy” seems perfectly normal. In Ticking Clock, that scene is “man and boy discuss how panthers are both beautiful and dangerous, how the boy could become an astronaut, why killing is bad unless your family is in danger, whether or not the boy recognizes a police sketch, and what happens when you surpass the speed of light.” So much is crammed into one scene, all of it somehow plot-relevant, that it becomes too bizarre not to laugh at. And not even in a so-bad-it’s-good way, just out of bafflement at its sheer incompetence.
“Tell me more about your backstory, but include some clunky foreshadowing and a clue for later.”
Here’s an actual line that indicates how badly the screenwriter wants you to know the amount of planning he put into the script. Lewis has a list of female first names from Keech’s “You Gonna Get Killed” diary, and he asks a woman if she goes by her legal name. It’s a tense moment and she’s frightened for her life, but she stammers with fear: “Because of my sunny disposition, my friends called me Pollyanna. Polly for short. Just a nickname that sort of stuck.” Agh. Why is she reading from the screenwriter’s outline? Who the hell talks that way when they think they’re about to get stabbed in the neck?
That’s not an exposition face. That’s an “I terror-peed a little” face.
And again, none of this is even bad enough to make fun of. It’s just frustrating. Who is this writer? John Turman? What else has he done–
Cuba Gooding Jr., you won an Oscar, right? I didn’t imagine that? You jumped around and said the thing? I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a dream.
He’s got a face for Radio, har har.
That line of questioning is more about how he ended up doing bullshit movies like this than his performance. His character in Ticking Clock only sounds like an idiot because of the terrible script.
Neal McDonough, famed “that guy,” is actually pretty good as a villain. Come to think of it, he never took me out of the movie. Some bad lines just needed to be said like a cartoon nemesis, and Neal pulls them off. Good work.
I also loved him in… you know, that thing?
The creepy little kid is creepy. Have a treat, Austin Abrams.
Who’s a widdle psycho?
The lady that looks after the creepy little kid is played by Nicki Aycox. She’s forgettably nurturing.
Did you know that her friends called her Pollyanna for her sunny disposition?
Oh, and Yancey Arias plays a police detective who doesn’t believe Lewis. Not for any particularly good reason, mind you. It just needs to be that way so Lewis can do all the investigatin’. Were Yancey in a film that actually required him to be a suspicious cop, he’d do just fine.
“I’ll do the detecting around here, Daddy Day Camp.”
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Hahaha, get ready for a goofy-ass time watch that shoots holographic gears and numbers at you.
“Hold on, this is just the screensaver.”
Aside from that, there’s your usual ripple effects fades and not much else.
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- Honestly, you will never watch this, but for the one or two purists out there, look out, Spoiler Town. This is the paragraph where I’m really gonna unleash. Because seriously, movie, you are so goddamned silly. Number one, they violate their timeline rules. Keech looks into his notebook and says something about “it’s written, so it’s gotta happen.” So they’re implying that he knows he must commit these crimes because he lives in an immutable universe. But then he changes things so GRAAAAUGGGH, it’s immutabullshit. You can’t have both. Number two, Lewis simultaneously takes way too long to figure out that Keech is a time traveler and pieces it together too quickly. It’s a bad movie called Ticking Clock that shows off the bad guy’s future notebook right at the beginning, so we’re pretty sure something’s up, but why make us pretend like we haven’t figured it out? And when Lewis finally punches the puzzle pieces into place, he’s all, “Wait a minute, the kid was reading a comic book of The Time Machine, and the killer’s clothes are made of a futuristic heat-sensitive material that doesn’t exist yet, and this newspaper clipping says 2032– TIME TRAVEL IT’S TIME TRAVEL OH MY GOD TIME TRAVEL.” The instant he even has the idea, holy shit, you guys, yes, this, this is normal, let’s go. Number three, the ending, what the hell? Little Keech decides to up and kill himself so Older Evil Him will never happen. This has a ripple effect that… makes the kid still alive. See, because Old Him can never come back and be his inspiration for suicide, so– AUGGGH, fuck time travel, I hate this. He should still grow up to be evil. And no, Cuba doesn’t adopt him and raise him right or anything. Matter of fact, now they never even met. But Cuba is the only person who remembers the events of the film, because MOVIES ARE DUMB. Oh, right, number four… basic cinematic incompetence. Shitty edits, weird filters for no reason, and the funniest moment of all… they cut to another scene and the music drops out. Like, in mid-note. Somebody spliced the track by accident and nobody caught it. It’s bad, is what I’m saying.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the worse the movie, the less the characters question how time travel works. Ticking Clock is no exception. In addition to completely lacking a “None of this makes any sense!” rant, Cuba Gooding Jr. actually says the exact opposite:
“It all makes sense! That’s why he’s always one step ahead of me!“
This film was released directly to home video, so under my current Time Out criteria of a) theatrically released, b) Leonard Maltin-reviewed, c) commercially available d) movies that feature actual time travel, I didn’t have to include it, but it’s notable for one reason: while it’s thematically similar to the film Looper, it predates it by over a year. This is a perfect example of how execution is just as important as story. And no, the two plotlines aren’t even close to identical, but as an exploration of how drastically a person can change over time, they’re aiming for the same thing. Looper hits the bullseye, while Ticking Clock sits on the ground and chews on the arrow.
LATER THIS WEEK:
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.