Gerard Butler

Timeline (2003, Richard Donner)

Timeline is really bad. The opening sequence starts Donner regular Steve Kahan in a terrible bit part but at least there’s the stunt casting; the rest of the poorly edited sequence has ER doctors and anonymous law enforcement looking into the mysterious death of a man who appeared in the middle of the highway for Kahan to almost hit. Of course, we the viewers know he’s somehow travelled through time because we see a knight on horseback about chop him down before cutting to Kahan in the desert.

That opening shot of the knight cutting down the time traveller should be a trailer shot, should have some kind of major visceral impact… it’s got squat. The shot’s boringly composed—somehow Donner manages to suck all the life out of his wide Panavision frame, ably assisted—unfortunately—by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who’s never got any interesting or thoughtful lighting. Timeline looks boring, with its “renaissance village at a Six Flags” not even a Medieval Times, much less renaissance faire production design or the laughably bad costumes. The knights all look like they belong on a White Castle commercial and the time traveling heroes look like they’re trying to prove cosplay can be macho. Gerard Butler’s outfit is something else.

Though Butler is something else too. Donner apparently gave Butler two directions—make it more Scottish and play it like 80s Mel Gibson. Shirt off, hair wild, soulfully love the ladies (in this case, Anna Friel, who manages to be the only person outside Billy Connolly, who’s exempt, not to embarrass or humiliate themselves it some point during Timeline).

See, Timeline, which is about locable eccentric old archeologist Connolly going back in time through Michael Crichton-stereotype modern megalomaniacal rich recluse scientist David Thewlis’s time machine. Only he gets stuck back in time and so his team—Butler, Frances O’Connor, plus Connolly’s son, bro Paul Walker, who’s around the dig site because he’s got the hots for O’Connor and trying to tempt her away from her work to apparently quit her job and marry him and pump out babies. O’Connor’s real bad in Timeline, which sucks because O’Connor’s great, and it’s not all Donner’s fault, it’s not all the script’s fault—okay, a lot of it’s both Donner and the script’s fault, like, wow, terrible character. But O’Connor’s still bad. She’s not as bad as Walker, but she’s close, although bad in an entirely different way. If the film embraced its spoof potential—bro Walker going back in time to save his dad, Indiana Jones wannabe Butler, the silly battles, Thewlis’s mad scientist–it might’ve been… good. I was going to say amusing, but I really think about the only way you could make Timeline work is to do it as a comedy of itself. Albeit with a different script, cast, director, composer, cinematographer, production designer, and costume designer. Anna Friel and Billy Connolly can stay too if they want, Friel because she’s got the ability to—if not rise above—at lease not drown. Connolly because it’s Billy Connolly, who cares if he’s any good.

At the beginning, when Connolly’s lecturing, for a moment I thought he got the part because it was going to be “Head of the Class,” which too might’ve saved Timeline, if it were actually a “Head of the Class” spin-off. But no, then Butler’s Scottish burr dominates and it seems like it’s been dubbed it’s so over the top and you don’t realize yet what you’re in for with Butler. Even when Butler’s not particularly bad he’s disappointing because of how the film positions him. It keeps giving him chances to “breakout” and Butler never takes them. O’Connor seems to understand what a mistake she’s making, Walker can’t be bothered to care, they literally have him bro-hugging fifteenth century knights and whatnot, everyone else seems to at least get they’re in trouble. But Butler keeps it together throughout. He’s a trooper.

Who gives a risible performance.

Some spectacularly bad acting from Matt Craven and Ethan Embry. Neal McDonough is quite bad. He’s the ex-Marine security guy who takes the dreamy nerds back in time and immediately loses his cool and they have to compensate. Michael Sheen’s the evil English lord. He’s bad. He’s funny but he’s bad. Sheen might get to stay for the spoof, but only if his already hilariously big armor gets bigger.

Marton Csokas is the evil guard with a secret who becomes everyone’s nemesis at one point or another. He’s awful. He and Butler’s big fight scene actually gets put on pause—with the guys passing out stunned—so the movie can catch up with Walker and O’Connor, who get paired together for a third act mission where Walker’s got to trust the smart woman and it turns out to be a bad idea because she’s just an emotional silly. Truly bad part for O’Connor, can’t emphasis it enough. Especially for 2003 or whatever. There are better female parts in male-targeted medieval action movies from the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not sure how many because it’s not a good genre, but there are at least a few. Because it’s really bad for O’Connor here.

It doesn’t help she and Walker’s romantic chemistry is at the visibly uncomfortably disinterested miscasting error level. Though Butler and Friel’s rapport isn’t much better. It’s just not as bad in such bad ways.

There is one “must be seen to be believed” sequence in Timeline. When they travel back in time, for about fifteen seconds all the actors have to make faces to show brief, unimaginably intense pain. It’s horrible but wonderfully so.

Otherwise… I mean, I knew better than to watch Timeline. It’s on me. But did those involved in its production also now better than to be involved with it; most of the experience of watching Timeline is wondering who the hell thought this something or that something was a good idea when said somethings are so obviously terrible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, based on the novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Richard Marks; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Daniel T. Dorrance; costume designer, Jenny Beavan; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard Donner, and Jim Van Wyck; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gerard Butler (Andre Marek), Frances O’Connor (Kate Ericson), Paul Walker (Chris Johnston), Neal McDonough (Frank Gordon), Rossif Sutherland (François Dontelle), Anna Friel (Lady Claire), Michael Sheen (Lord Oliver), David Thewlis (Robert Doniger), Matt Craven (Steven Kramer), Ethan Embry (Josh Stern), Lambert Wilson (Lord Arnaut), Marton Csokas (Sir William De Kere), and Billy Connolly (Professor Johnston).


Butterfly on a Wheel (2007, Mike Barker)

Besides opening with that long, awkward and confusing title, Butterfly on a Wheel opens a lot like a 1980s thriller would. Robert Duncan’s score is quite effective throughout the film, but during the opening titles–knowing very little about the movie–I think I got a little more hopeful than I should have. Butterfly takes place over a long night (except the first act, which summarizes the day before) and running the present action limits the movie’s potential. With a couple exceptions, the movie doesn’t do anything wrong, it just doesn’t set its ambitions high. As a ninety minute diversion, it’s pretty good, but only because it’s got a couple nice surprises at the end. I’m not a fan of trick endings… but for a ninety minute, second and third acts over one night narrative, I could care less.

Except it’s Pierce Brosnan in the heavy role. Brosnan doesn’t have to quell his accent–though I have no idea, having never seen him interviewed, if he still has a strong Irish accent–but since his character’s deceiving the other characters and the viewer, it’s not like there’s much potential for acting. Brosnan’s good when he does get to act, but it’s only a couple times. It’s a waste of time for Brosnan, the kind of silly role one would take in a vanity project… oh, did I forget to mention he produced Butterfly too? His participation makes a lot of sense with that detail taken into account.

Maria Bello is good, even though the specifics for her character are real sketchy. The first act, the brief establishing of her backstory and the ground situation… it’s too abridged. But she does have some really excellent small moments. They don’t really contribute to the movie, just showcase Bello’s acting.

As for Gerard Butler–and it’s the first time I’ve ever see him in anything–he’s awful. His performance, if it deserves that term, is a disaster. He can’t emote, he can’t sit still. He can’t even walk convincingly. He does bring Butterfly down. Due to his performance, the end is less significant. He’s terrible. There aren’t words for how terrible.

The direction’s competent, bordering on good. It’s a thriller without many set pieces, which is odd, so Barker doesn’t have much chance for flash. There is one terrible scene–the camera is spinning around Bello and Butler, but instead of doing it practical, it’s an effects shot. Except the backgrounds keep changing and it all looks bad. And the effects shots at the end are bad too. But the direction’s inoffensive.

Butterfly‘s engaging in the worst way–it’s actually all about watching to find out what happens. There’d be nothing to see on a second viewing. But for one of those movies, it’s not bad.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mike Barker; written by William Morrissey; director of photography, Ashley Rowe; edited by Guy Bensley; music by Robert Duncan; production designer, Rob Gray; produced by Pierce Brosnan, Morrissey and William Vince; released by Lionsgate Films.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (Tom Ryan), Maria Bello (Abby Randall), Gerard Butler (Neil Randall), Emma Karwandy (Sophie Randall), Claudette Mink (Judy Ryan), Desiree Zurowski (Helen Schriver), Nicholas Lea (Jerry Crane), Peter Keleghan (Karl Granger), Samantha Ferris (Diane), Malcolm Stewart (Dave Carver), Callum Keith Rennie (Det. McGill) and Dustin Milligan (Matt Ryan).


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