2002, PG, 93 min. Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Starring Jesse Bradford, Robin Thomas, French Stewart, Paula Garces, Michael Biehn.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., April 5, 2002
Frakes, aka Lt. Commander Riker of Star Trek: The Next Generation, has an apparent hit on his hands with this cunning blend of Nickelodeon-like visual pizzazz, wholesome teen sex appeal, and lowbrow comedy that falls just shy of outright assaultiveness. (Note to Paramount Pictures blurb-scroungers: The Chronicle is now set up to directly receive electronic fund transfers in my name.) The titular plot gimmick focuses upon a wristwatch-looking gizmo that speeds the wearer's motion to the point that his surrounding environment appears frozen in time. Imagine the wealth of practical possibilities for … well, nifty special effects at least. There's just one glitch -- the device accelerates aging as well as motion -- but inventor Dr. Earl Dobler (Third Rock From the Sun alum Stewart) figures his old colleague George Gibbs (Thomas) can fix that lickety-split. But -- oops! -- the hypertime device falls into the hands of Gibbs' teenage son, Zak (Bradford), whose immediate thought is, of course, to use it to impress chicks -- principally, bombshellesque Venezuelan visitor Francesca (Garces). Of course, in keeping with the unwritten movie law that breakthrough technology must always be coveted by bad men who seek to use it for Evil, thugs are quickly dispatched by Dobler's villainous boss (Biehn), who's bent on stealing the gizmo and silencing all witnesses. Oddly, screenwriters Rob and Andy Hedden seldom explore any but the most obvious implications of drastically manipulating everyday physics. That's probably just as well, considering how lame and implausible their few such efforts are. And in any event, Frakes seems much more intent upon exploiting the extreme likability and attractiveness of his teen leads and the zany gag potential of the clock-stopping device. (The latter consists mostly of fairly mundane stuff such as ultra-speed yardwork and doggie whiz frozen in midair.) Gallingly enough, this strategy actually works pretty well most of the time, raising the question of whether likability and constant sensory stimulation really do compensate for a multitude of cinematic sins, or whether I'm simply losing my ability to differentiate among levels of mediocrity. Either way, Clockstoppers is clearly not aimed in any respect at a target audience of much over 15. So cast a perspective-building glance back to your own erstwhile affection for the mindless Brady Bunch/Mod Squad enthusiasms of your youth, and pack the kids off to the multiplex with an easy conscience and forgiving critical sensibility.