Up the Slipstream Without a Paddle

02-Oct-07 11:25 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

When a student of mine wrote an essay on why the little-known sci-fi film Slipstream was one of the best films of 2005, my interest was piqued. I was already a sucker for any movie featuring time travel, so mix in a glowing review and a famous hobbit, and I was sold. Too bad I ended up wanting a refund.

Sean Astin plays a government physicist with a handheld, software-based temporal translocation unit. By using nearby cell phone towers, he can send himself and anyone in contact with him back in time up to ten minutes, displacing their selves of that previous moment. But the movie applies this concept unevenly. Are their bodies affected, or just their mind? Are objects affected, or are they duplicated? Frequency could be criticized for having an illogical temporal mechanic, but that film was both creative and internally consistent. Slipstream fails in this regard, as we see no truly clever applications of the device other than for do-overs.

It's typical for a movie to introduce the main character and show us his invention in action as buildup for when things go awry. Slipstream rushes this important getting-to-know-you stage by immediately putting Astin in a bank that gets robbed. And not just by any thugs; no, these are British mods and rockers who kept their outfits, hairdos, and tattoos when they turned 40. Despite the heist going off with a hitch and losing several of his comrades, the gang leader has time to stop and steal what he assumes is an expensive cell phone — but is, in fact, the titularly codenamed time machine.

It is the first of the story's many weak points. Already we have stereotypical villains, a loser scientist protagonist, and unrealistic behavior from both. Such examples continue: when the bank robbers get into a car accident, the first squad on the site are… the FBI? They should've gone with the local police, as maybe they've seen Quick Change and then that old "terrorist disguised as a hostage" trick wouldn't've worked again. The masquerade continues moments later as we see the evil mastermind demonstrate that anyone wearing a captain's uniform can get on a plane, without ID.

Worse than any plot holes is the film's ego. It draws out scenes for seemingly no reason than to revel in its own creativity. Other scenes alternate between speeding up and slowing down, as if to hammer into the audience's thick skulls, "Hey, time is fluid in THIS film!" A couple scenes feature the background slowly revolving around the actors, or vice versa. It's like bullet time with one camera and a green screen. But Slipstream is just a shadow of the many films it wishes it was. Just as Overdrawn at the Memory Bank channeled Casablanca, Slipstream imitates Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Now that's what I call cinematic hubris.

Slipstream's first five minutes — filled with cheesy narration, slow-motion sequences, and screen savers — immediately suggested, "Oh, it's going to be one of THOSE films": not a bad one, but one that sets its sights low. Proper expectations can make or break a film, but even given the proper mindset, I still enjoyed Adam Sandler's Click (and Sean Astin's performance in same) more than this. Slipstream's goofy characters and illogical science make me think it was made for a younger audience, but language and violence have rated it 'R' — yet another inconsistency. Whatever target this film was aiming for, it slipped and slid right off the map.

One Response to “Up the Slipstream Without a Paddle”

  1. GeneD adds:

    Ken, although I know you don't watch current television, fellow fans of time-travel stories may be interested in NBC's Journeyman, which airs after Heroes on Monday nights.

    While much of the show's setup is pretty standard, the solid acting, low-key and relatively realistic setting, and initial mystery make it worth watching among this season's new genre programming…

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