October 15th, 2021
MOVIE: NEEDLE IN A TIMESTACK
STARRING: LESLIE ODOM JR., CYNTHIA ERIVO, ORLANDO BLOOM, FREIDA PINTO
DIRECTED BY: JOHN RIDLEY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 1 STAR (Out of 4)
The lesson that many movies teach us is to never mess with time travel. Don’t include it in your screenplay, don’t try to explain it, and don’t make it the major focus of a story because you will be painting yourself into a corner that cannot be escaped. Needle in a Timestack is ambitious with it’s approach with time travel, making it something that can be messed around with in a way that is similar to Total Recall or Back to the Future, but only this time it’s just something that naturally happens, like a tsunami, an earthquake, or a heat wave. The problem still remains, however, as director John Ridley attempts to deliver a romance drama, mixed with sci-fi tones, and left me wishing I had the ability to go back in time and never decide to watch this movie. Needle in a Timestack has a foursome of actors worthy of our attention, stuck in an out of touch romance, that wants to ask tough relationship hypotheticals, but never cares to give any answer. Needle in a Timestack is as entertaining as watching a clock.
It’s interesting to see this film arrive around the same time as the Hugh Jackman science fiction film Reminiscence, which was a sci-fi noir, attempting to make time and memories something that could be stored or locked away, and used as sources of pleasure for people. It is the noir touches and the Blade Runner style apocalyptic Florida that makes that movie work ten times more than Needle in a Timestack. Here it’s the romance that takes more of a center stage, but it’s told in a way that reminds me of a Nicholas Sparks novel, making it hard to take any of it seriously. The major questions are never truly answered and the romantic quandary is never settled to give a happy or sad ending.
Ridley’s screenplay, adapted from the book by Robert Silverberg, sets the stage with his two romantic leads, Nick (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Janine (Cynthia Erivo). The first scene is Janine speaking to a camera, crying, and reminding Nick, “to never forget her”. It’s not till later when that message becomes key evidence that they once had a strong love for eachother. In the beginning, they are madly in love, she is a photographer, and he is an advertising agent. It’s during one of Nick’s work meetings where we see a time wave occur and he instantly believes they are being caused by Janine’s ex-husband Tommy (Orlando Bloom). Tommy has regretted ever letting his old friend Nick into the life of his ex-wife, and at first a time wave turns the family dog to a cat, but then a big wave occurs, and now Tommy and Janine are married and Nick and his ex-girlfriend Alex (Freida Pinto) are together in their own mansion. But Nick knows something is not right and the rest of Needle in a Timestack becomes about Nick trying to get back to the love he once had.
One of the major problems that exist in Needle in a Timestack– and there are many problems- is that the rules are never truly set on what exactly happens to the world with every time wave. And while that keeps you constantly wondering what else is different, the narrative never truly establishes any chemistry between all four actors. No matter how attractive all of them are, there’s never a reason for us to care why they are romantically involved, or if they end up with one another. The third act involves Nick’s journey, locating a company that he used to store his memories, and also using his own resources to go back in time and change things back. Where that could be a cool and interesting new way of discussing time travel and the things we can do to change our lives, Ridley is not exactly interested in digging into those details, but thinks we want to see these two find eachother again.
By the time Needle in a Timestack is over there’s almost nothing that has been achieved, where the narrative is never romantic, never interesting in the way it uses time travel, and has a title that’s equally problematic. I couldn’t tell you what the “needle” is in the timestack of the movie, which is because there’s not a solitary moment that explains why all of these things have happened. It’s even the way that Nick goes about making his present the way he had it before. It’s not dramatic, it’s not thrilling, and it’s not worth the amount of time the audience has invested. When it’s over it’s just a good thing that time has run out.
NEEDLE IN A TIMESTACK IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON DEMAND FRIDAY OCTOBER 15TH, 2021
Written by: Leo Brady