Thursday, February 14, 2019

Mega Time Squad: Kiwi Time Travel

Time travel can be dangerous, especially if you have low self-worth, because you might meet yourself—and it would be super-awkward knowing what you thought of you. Lug-headed John likes most people, even including himself, so he shouldn’t have any trouble working with his other selves. Yet, somehow he still quarrels and backstabs with himself in Tim van Dammen’s Mega Time Squad (trailer here), which opens this Friday in limited release.

John is decent bloke, even though he harbors serious gangster ambitions clearly beyond his reach. Currently, he is an unglorified errand boy for Shelton, a suburban Kiwi kingpin. That certainly should not impress Shelton’s younger sister, Kelly, who has recently moved in with him, but she takes an inexplicable shine to the lad. To impress her, John uses some inside intel to try to swipe a bag full of illicit cash, but that puts him in the middle of a power struggle between Shelton’s outfit and a Chinese gang moving in of their territory.

Fortunately, along with the cash, John also makes off with an ancient Chinese bracelet that allows the wearer to jump back in time. Van Dammen never gets very Doctor Who-ish regarding the details of how this works. Instead, he is more interested in the stage-managing the growing clique of Johns, who dub themselves: “The Mega Time Squad.” We do not get any lectures on the dangers of monkeying around with the space-time continuum, because John really doesn’t need one. The ancient Chinese demon stalking him makes the point well enough on its own.

Without question, the visual effects and physical traffic-directing of the various Johns is downright inspired. Unfortunately, the characterization is not as strong. Alas, poor John lacks the charm of either Bill or Ted and has nothing that can compare to the screen presence of Mi Yang’s various doppelgangers in Reset. As played by Anton Tennet, the dude is just a dude.

Still, his earnest (if clueless) courtship of Kelly is genuinely endearing. Hetty Gaskell-Hahn strikes just the right balance between sweetness and sarcasm as the object of his affections. To be fair, Tennet also does a nice job distinguishing each John by emphasizing the quirks that surface in each iteration.

“Nice” really is the word for Mega Time Squad. It is an amusing film that over-achieves quite resourcefully when it comes to special effects, but the vibe is a little too laidback for its own good. Pleasant but not essential, Mega Time Squad opens tomorrow (2/15) in select cities, including the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio.