There was once a time when science fiction films were about being in the future as opposed to traveling to it. Since the advent of Back to the Future and Groundhog Day, American films have been riddled with brief flights into Tomorrowland or the fixable past: Donny Darko, Premonition, The Lake House, Minority Report, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Meet the Robinsons, and Dej Vu to name a few. It’s an obsession that has completely usurped any of the other SF conventions-like space travel or, with the exception of the Matrix films, the time-honored dystopia tale. (Even the most recent play at Ensemble Theatre has a time-traveling theme.)
Darko excepted, most of these films are frivolous outings offering a few thrills and mostly a mere reverse nostalgia-we wish ourselves into a future that is not determined by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth but, rather, by a fantasy that says an easy repair job is available to those who master the clock. Most of these stories stink. They rob the dignity from death and the hard work from living in the present. The best proof that time travel is impossible is that George Bush is still president. If it were possible to change this through time travel, somebody would have derigged that election by now.
This film invests its irresponsible pretzeling of the time-space continuum with an interesting wrinkle: the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which holds that observing a phenomenon changes it. Nicolas Cage, that most indiscriminate of actors, keeps saying, “If you look at the future, you change it and everything in the present.” A cool idea, which probably came from Phillip K. Dick, but unfortunately they don’t do much with that trippy notion.
Bad acting tortures the rest. I’ve never seen Julianne Moore so shamelessly bad; she apparently thought it was a satire and tried to be as broad as possible. Cage broods steamily as usual. A few moments of tricky excursions between reality and the imagined future give you a glimpse of the good film that could have been made here. The rest isn’t horrible; it’s just a waste of time.