THE TIME MACHINE, directed by Simon Wells. Written by John Logan, based on the novella by H.G. Wells. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13.
With director Simon Wells turning his great-grandfather H.G. Wells’ classic novella, “The Time Machine,” into a souped-up, much-delayed, $80 million spectacle for the big screen, one would think that keeping the book in the family would have been a good thing, a way to honor the family icon. Shame that isn’t the case.
The film, from a script by John Logan and based in part on George Pal’s superior 1960 film of the same name, is one of those movies you go in to watch at 7 p.m. and eight hours later, you look at your watch to see it’s only 7:30 p.m. It’s dreadful, lumbering, long-winded and filled with unintentional laughs and underwhelming special effects that are about as exciting as – oh, I don’t know – tracing patterns in a carpet.
Set not in London but in turn-of-the-century New York City – one of many changes made from the original text – the film follows Guy Pearce as Alexander Hartdegen, a scrawny genius with a ratty mullet who loses the love of his life, Emma (Sienna Guillory), to tragedy just moments after asking her to marry him.
Four years later, Alexander, now somehow thinner yet with an even more outrageous mullet, has built himself a gleaming brass time machine, zips back into the past and reconnects with Emma.
Initially, it’s a touching scene played for all it is worth. But then another tragedy strikes this doe-eyed couple that’s so absurd and poorly handled, it had the audience at my screening first catching their breath – and then howling in laughter.
That’s pretty much how the rest of this movie goes. After brief trips to the years 2030 and 2037, during which Alexander witnesses the colonization of the moon and then its eventual destruction as parts of it collide into the skyscrapers of New York City (allegedly the reason the film was delayed in theaters), pop star Samantha Mumba shows up as an Eloi in the year 800,000.
As Alexander quickly learns, the world is now a vastly different place, with the kind-hearted Elois and the evil Morlocks representing a split human race at vicious odds with each other.
One genuinely thrilling scene does evolve from this madness, but with Jeremy Irons wasted as Uber-Morlock, a villain whose blast of white hair, exposed spine and pale face suggests the actor isn’t opposed to camp, “The Time Machine” mostly sputters, grinding through the centuries without a clear purpose or intent – not even, apparently, to entertain.
On video and DVD
ZOOLANDER, directed by Ben Stiller. Written by Drake Sather, Stiller and John Hamburg. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Ben Stiller’s “Zoolander” stars Stiller as Derek Zoolander, a preening, low-wattage male supermodel known for his “Blue Steel” look who comes to believe “there’s more to life than just being really, really, really good-looking.”
In his quest to find out what that could possibly be, Zoolander unwittingly becomes caught in a fashion-industry conspiracy (they apparently exist), which involves knocking off the prime minister of Malaysia because the man is staunchly opposed to such messy haute-couture trappings as sweatshops and child labor.
Glossing over those sore spots, the film trots out a whole runway of peculiar characters, including Hansel (Owen Wilson), a breezy bit of brain-dead banality who recently dethroned Zoolander as Male Model of the Year; agency owner Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller), whose prostate, we’re told, is the size of a honeydew; and Mugatu (Will Ferrell), a ferociously bitchy designer with a bleached-blond poodle hairdo whose new clothing line, Derelicte, is inspired by the resourceful, shabby-chic innovations of the homeless.
Christopher Smith’s reviews appear Mondays and Fridays in Style, occasionally on Fridays on E! Entertainment’s “E! News Daily,” Tuesdays on “NEWS CENTER at 5” and Thursdays on “NEWS CENTER at 5:30” on WLBZ-2 and WCSH-6. He can be reached at BDNFilm1@aol.com.