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Time Trackers
(1989)

Director: Howard R. Cohen   
Cast:
Wil Shriner, Kathleen Beller, "Bridget Hoffman" (Ruby Marlowe)


Time travel - the problem is that everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. Okay, maybe not everyone talks about it, but the possibility of time travel seems so far beyond our current grasp of science"Which of you said I was doing a bad Dr. Smith impression?" that few people seem to want to seriously see if it can be given a try. Given that we don't have spaceships that can travel near the speed of light, nor there being any nearby black holes we could orbit, we can't even do any serious experiments concerning the slowing down of time, at least from what I remember during my junior high school science class. So for now, we can only enact large schemes concerning time travel in our imaginations. Having an active imagination, over the years I have daydreamed about where I would travel to if I had a time machine. Probably some of you have correctly guessed I would travel back to the age of the cowboy. That's right, but I would first prepare by learning how to shoot, ride, and other things to take care of myself while riding the frontier - it wasn't exactly a stable environment. Other times? Well, believe it or not, I would love to travel to a major American city sometime in the late '60s to early '70s - visit some grindhouses, and otherwise soak up the nostalgia and amusing kitsch the citizens around me would be taking for granted. I also would like to travel back in time in my own environment, back far enough so I could visit my younger self. I could advise myself what to do, what not to do, and also to beat up a particular jerk named Randy in my elementary school, who caused me plenty of misery in those days.

Some people would probably comment negatively on my choices, saying that with the power of time travel I would have a responsibility for the betterment of mankind. The most popular suggestion when it comes to time travel always seems to be one that proposes the killing of Hitler before he could do any of his crimes. No one, for some reason, ever suggests doing the same for Stalin, even though he probably can be considered a bigger butcher. (Guess fascism isn't as cool as communism.) No one also seems to bring up the possibility that had Hitler not been around, quite possibly even worse individuals or worse scenarios may have eventually popped their ugly heads into our timeline. It's hard to think about "responsibility" with time travel when you consider that. And anyway, since history books still mention Hitler, perhaps the time travelers in the future - if there are any - have decided to play it safe with history. (Or else they are all just using time travel for their own selfish desires, from stock market investments to beating up playground bullies.) Until actual time travel does come around, I think the only responsibility that should be considered with it is to use it in a story that's clever, entertaining, and original. H. G. Wells did it. So did James Cameron. (Well, considering that lawsuit he faced not long after its release, maybe he didn't reach that third piece of criteria.)

But with the movie Time Trackers, we are not dealing with the likes of Wells or Cameron. First off, we are dealing with producer Roger Corman, and not the Corman of 30 or more years ago. For the past few years, he's been clever only in ways "I thought we'd have decent costumes since the caterer was providing generic soda..."he finds to save a buck, his product has not been terribly entertaining , and considering how for the past few years he's also been recycling music, costumes, sets, scripts, etc., you can forget about original. And on the writing and directing front, we have Howard R. Cohen, who in the past has written and/or directed forgettable films like Lords Of The Deep, Deathstalker IV, and Saturday The 14th - all three of which happened to be produced by... guess. It's sometime in the far-flung 21st century, where a team of scientists lead by Dr. Craig (Robert Cornthwaite, The Ghost And Mr. Chicken) have finally managed to break the time-travel challenge once and for all, managing to travel back a few minutes in time. But that doesn't satisfy team member Zandor (Lee Burgere, Dynasty); not only does he want to immediately start traveling further back in time in order to do great deeds, he wants to alter things so that he alone will get the credit for making the time machine. He has secretly built a time machine elsewhere on the laboratory grounds (I know... I know...) and flees back in time to kill the ancestors of his fellow team members. It's up to the team to stop him, so Craig's daughter R.J. (Beller, Dynasty) and fellow scientist Charles (comedian Shriner) volunteer to travel back in time to track Zandor down.

There's more to it that than, of course. The two scientists are accompanied into the past by a historian whose name I honestly could not determine with certainty. The movie seems determined for the longest time not to mention her name at all, and when it eventually does, it can't seem to make up its mind. At one point it seemed to be "Vallen", another point it seemed to be "Dr. Arsenal". Just in case my confusion needs to be defended, I should point out that I often found the audio of the movie to be poorly recorded. I had to wait until the closing credits to find out; from the listed cast order I determined that the actress playing the part was Bridget Hoffman (a pseudonym for voiceover actress Ruby Marlowe), and that her character's name was actually "Madeleine Hart". See just how poorly that audio is recorded? There's also another addition to the team shortly after the trio travel to 1991 to stop Zandor's first scheme. Their successful foiling of an assassination scheme by Zandor gets the inevitable attention of the police, in particular dedicated cop Harry (Ned Beatty, Thunderpants). Why this New York cop (according to the video box) is pounding the beat in Hollywood is never answered. But anyway, when he tracks down the trio just as they are about to pursue Zandor even further back into time, he finds himself transported with them back to medieval England, and also finds he has been assigned the role of the movie's (unfunny) comic relief.

In a way, you could say there's not much more than that. Sure, there's over an hour or so left for the movie to fill, but no doubt because of the limited budget, the movie decides to spend just about all that remaining time in medieval England, reusing the costumes and sets from Corman's remake Who better to portray an ass-kicking cop than Ned Beatty?of The Masque Of The Red Death (and footage as well, I'm pretty sure.) At this point, the movie mostly forgets it's a time travel movie and plays out instead more as one of those movies where the terrorized peasant population needs the help of outsiders to help them overthrow their tyrannical leader - you know the kind I'm talking about. The fact that there are outsiders from the future being involved in all this makes little to absolutely no difference at all. You would think that Zandor (who, no surprise, is revealed to be the tyrannical leader) would be shown using his knowledge of science to keep his thumb on the populace, but he's only seen using science once in front of the people - and only as a party trick. (It's not even revealed just how he managed to get into power in the first place.) There isn't anything new on the side of the protagonists, except maybe with the love interest angle that usually comes up in these time-travel films; the sexes in this case are reversed, so that it's one of the female time travelers who falls in love with one of these medieval citizens (played by Alex Hyde-White, Gods And Generals.) Apart from that, there's nothing of interest about this romantic subplot. In fact, it's so utterly boring that there isn't even any effort made to inform this doofus that this woman he's interested in is in fact from another time.

And that's the biggest problem I had with Time Trackers - that it's simply a boring movie. There's nothing about it that I found especially entertaining or even mildly distracting. Action scenes? There are hardly any in the first place, and the little that happens is utterly uninspired; the action scene that most vividly comes to mind is a fight-to-the-death sword duel around the parapet of the castle, which is actually so dull that even the passer-bys on the ground below are not bothering to look up and watch. There's also another sword fight where the defeated individual, looking at a pointed sword straight into his face, simply walks away in the most casual manner. How about comic relief? Well, as I mentioned earlier, Beatty's character is stuck with providing the bulk of the humor, though he can't do anything with the absolutely awful lines his character has to speak, most of them to do with his character's ravenous appetitive. (A typical line: "You travel, what, 1900 years and don't think to take along a bag with a snack?") But the main reason why the movie is boring is simply because we are dealing with a bunch of boring characters. Little is done to make them real individuals rather than a bunch of somebodys who do what the script dictates to them. Zandor, for one, gets only a couple of lines or so of dialogue before he starts to put his evil scheme into action - and before even five minutes of the movie have gone by. How can we feel any sort of threat from a bad guy that hasn't shown enough of what makes him, you know, bad?

It should come as no surprise that the acting in general is pretty awful, though the way these characters are constructed you can't really blame the performers. There's nothing painfully bad about their acting, but you really sense a lack of spark and Didn't anyone tell him it's not polite to point?enthusiasm on their part for this project. Actually, Hyde-White does seem to be putting in some effort, and he almost manages to make his boringly written swashbuckling hero a likeable one. Beatty is sleepwalking, but even then he puts some gusto in his character's bumbling behavior that at times makes it almost appear he's having fun. Perhaps if this wasn't a Roger Corman production, everyone would be more enthusiastic. But it is, and you know what that means - cheap city. We have a dull grey-walled time travel laboratory full of flashing buttons and TV editing equipment, with such limited space that the time travel vehicle has to be in the same room as the scientists. We have a Hollywood car chase using a stock footage shot of two completely different-looking cars suddenly racing down a cobblestone street. We have a medieval England shot in the arid and shabby-looking foothills of south California. And don't get me started with the interior and exterior of the castle. This may have been hilariously tacky in another movie, but Roger Corman gives it his typical touch of late where all this becomes just sad to see. It's hard to believe it's the same Corman who made all those entertaining drive-in movies years earlier. All I can hope is that some time-traveler in the future kidnapped Corman around the early '80s and replaced him with an impostor before traveling back - because that will mean sometime in the future, the real Corman will appear again and once again we'll be getting movies from him that are actually fun to watch.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check Amazon for Roger Corman's autobiography

See also: Galaxy Of Terror, Idaho Transfer, Sorority House Massacre

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