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Clockstoppers
Reviewed by Jason Myers, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Jonathan Frakes (director)
Genre:   Sci-Fi
Released:   March 29, 2002
Review Date:  
Audience Rating:   Rated PG
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

Some kids want to be able to fly. Some want to be able to turn invisible. But, for nearly as long as I can remember, I wanted to be able to stop time. Of course, you can't really stop the entire universe, right? So, instead, you speed yourself up. And, of course, this piece of sci-fi technology would be conveniently contained in—what else?—the casing of a watch. Seeing the preview for Clockstoppers—a Nickelodeon movie about a guy who finds a watch that accelerates his molecules to the point where the rest of the world seems like it's standing still—brought back the countless scenarios of daydreams past.

I can't remember exactly when that filtered into my consciousness. There was a movie or TV show I watched in elementary school (it wasn't The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything, though that's got the same premise). There were episodes of The Twilight Zone and Wild, Wild West. And "Wink of an Eye" from the original Star Trek. You know, the episode the U.S.S. Enterprise appears to have an infestation of invisible gnats that actually turns out to be a race of super-accelerated people.

That watch has endless applications. Of course, there's the obvious. Revenge scenarios on whoever happened to be my mortal enemy at the time. Sexual fantasies that quickly became much more elaborate and Machiavellian than the usual "See girls naked" variety. The "Oh crap, I forgot my homework!" or "Oh crap, I didn't study for my German quiz!" problems that could be solved with just the touch of a button. And, of course, the endless ways to cause general mischief and mayhem at school, just for the hell of it.

As I acquired a girlfriend, and stopped worrying about bullies and snobs, the watch became a little less useful. But it's continued to make appearances. Sophomore year in college, there was Rekha and her friends, who invariably insisted on yapping out in the dorm hallway with the volume turned up to 11 on the nights when I really needed to get some sleep. When direct requests to Rekha, and entreaties to my ineffectual R.A., didn't do the trick, I had to resort to the watch. Every time she got too loud, I'd stop time, run down the hall, and punch the harpy bitch in the teeth, giving her sudden unexplainable and painful mouthbleeds, until she was behaviorally conditioned, Pavlov's dogs-like, to keep her massive screeching cake hole zipped up tighter than a leather gimp at a fetish party.

And even now, at my Clark Kent dayjob as a travel mag editor, the watch comes in handy. When I badly need a nap, or when I just want to be someplace else for a little while. But what's always remained intriguing about the watch, no matter what stage of life I'm in, is the limitless possibilities of the thing. The sheer joy of using the world as your playground.

The "world is your playground" aspect of time-manipulation is the one aspect at which Clockstoppers succeeds. (You thought I was going to go through this whole review without actually talking about the movie, didn't you? Almost, but not quite.)

When wholesome Noxema teen Zak and his honey of a love interest Francesca first discover "hypertime", we're thrust into a full-on crayon-colored fantasy landscape. A child hovers in mid-air on a tree swing. Water from a lawn sprinkler strings out like web of tiny glass beads. The wings of hummingbirds and honeybees move at a sluggish unnatural rate. So, what do these kids do with their newfound power? Make mischief and get revenge on bullies, of course. Unfortunately, most of this is compressed into one sequence in which Zak and Francesca are presented with three likely targets in convenient proximity. Why? It's time-efficient. Because we've got to make room for the main plot which involves—duh—shadowy government villains who want to keep the hypertime technology for themselves. But just before that, they've got time for one more stunt. Using hypertime to… help Zak's friend win a funky fresh DJing contest! In a squeaky-clean (but still funky fresh) party club scene that has all the glitter and wacky headgear of a rave without even a whiff of those pesky rave drugs.

Zak's friend suggests that they use hypertime to crash a slumber party where it's rumored that the girls go skinny-dipping in the family pool, thereby giving us a brief glimpse into what any normal teenage boy would do with the power to stop time. But Zak nixes the idea. He's got a new girlfriend, after all. Instead, everyone makes curfew. And, of course, even if he didn't have a girlfriend, Zak wouldn't do that anyway. He's just such a nice guy, yet in that good-natured manly lunk-headed clever slacker "My heart's greatest desire is to have a convertible Mustang" way that lets you know he's "cool."

Clockstoppers does get points for addressing a problem that I quickly had to face in my time-stopping daydreams. The fact that spending any amount of time at all sped-up like that will cause premature aging. The de-aging chair that Clockstoppers comes up with is remarkably similar to my method, which involved a cellular regeneration machine that worked while I slept at night. Clockstoppers also handles bringing other people and things into "hypertime" pretty much the way I did.
But the movie doesn't address this problem: if you're moving at such an accelerated rate that people can't even see you, image what will happen to any object that you bumped into, or even just tapped. Your fingers would be like bullets (Rekha's whole head would fly off when I punched her in the kisser… which, come to think of it, wouldn't have been that bad…). To get around that, I incorporated a gizmo into the watch that would put a sort of gradated force-field around my body. The field would briefly bring the objects I touched into time-sync with me, at the point of contact, cushioning any sort of impact. Yeah, I got way too detailed. Every time I stopped time, the watch would even create a sort of ephemeral outline of my body, so that, if I stopped time while someone was looking at me, I could get back into the same exact position before restarting time. I never did solve that whole sonic boom thing, though….

In any case, if Clockstoppers were judged solely by its time-stop sequences, it'd be a darn cool movie. The effects aren't groundbreaking, but they are imaginative and crisp. There's even a cool chase scene through a traffic of time-stopped cars. The cinematography was done by Tim Suhrstedt, who was the go-to guy for this type of light fantasy in the 80s (Teen Wolf, Mannequin, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure). The filmmakers may take a lot of poetic license with science, but who cares? That comes with the territory of this type of movie.

What also usually comes with the territory, unfortunately, is a flat plot, hackneyed script, and cardboard characters. Occasionally, studios release family-friendly movies that transcend the usual kid movie clichés, but Clockstoppers is not one of them. Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator, The Abyss), as the villain, manages only an occasional stiff scowl. He's neither threatening or interesting. They should have gotten somebody like Tim Curry or Crispin Glover. A seriously gorgeous Linda Kim plays a lackey villain who evidently knows Kung Fu, but we only see her display it for two seconds before Zak (wisely, I think) makes like Sir Robin and runs away. (Sources tell me that Kim made an appearance as Rucy Roo in an episode of Son of the Beach cleverly titled "B.J. Blue Hawaii".)

Zak's father is played by Robin Thomas, notable to me mostly for the fact that he played Mark Harmon's authoritarian nemesis in that dumb-ass classic, Summer School (Come on, you know you loved it. "Take your seats." "Where should we take 'em?!?"). Anyway, if we're to believe the movies (see also Cats & Dogs, and pretty much every sci-fi-ish family flick), every father in the universe (particularly when he's a scientist) is guilty of neglecting his kid (son, usually) in favor of work. But you can rest assured that, by the end of the movie, dad will have realized the error of his ways, and the waves of easy-fix movie love will roll in. In fact, pretty much every development is by rote, including the (SPOILERS, I GUESS) final act last minute just-in-the-nick-of-time rescue by a character who was initially too cowardly to help our heroes, and the gratuitous hugs-all-around ending.

Zak's mother is played by Julia Sweeney (Pat from Saturday Night Live). No one, I tell you, no one, should be forced to listen to Julia Sweeney in THX or Dolby Digital Surround Sound.

The biggest name here is French Stewart (3rd Rock from the Sun) as a wacky scientist. I happen to like French Stewart, but his presence here isn't enough to make the movie.

Zak's love interest, Francesca (played by Paula Garces), is, actually, about as much of a strong female character as this type of movie allows (she doesn't need a man to rescue her when the local bullies start macking on her, but she does crawl up on the countertop when faced with a possum). Garces spends the movie in the type of teen mall rat baby doll outfits that, while not quite sleazy, made me feel like a dirty old man even though I'm still a few years shy of thirty. (Oh, will you look at that… Garces is actually two years older than I am).

The two central relationships of the story are Zak's relationship with his father, and Zak's relationship with Francesca. Neither relationship is engaging, mostly because Jesse Bradford, as Zak, is so bland and emotionally vapid. Part of that, of course, has to do with the way his character is written. He's the all-American plain vanilla teen. He's old enough to drive, but he'll be an appealing character only to those who aren't old enough to drive. Ones who dream of someday selling old junk on E-bay to buy their first car. Wow, when he and his dad get into a fight, he retreats to his room and plays his electric guitar! Zak also likes to do tricks on his bike. That's so rad! Yes, I know, the kids probably don't say "rad" anymore, but you get the idea. This is a movie, after all, which manages to incorporate into its plot paintball, a DJing contest, and a rock-climbing wall, not because those things are interesting (though they can be), but because their inclusion seems a part of the formula for a successful youth-oriented movie.

The movie, though it's about high schoolers, is unlikely to appeal to high schoolers, just as no self-respecting seventeen-year-old actually reads Seventeen magazine. They've moved on to the magazines that have articles like "How to Build a Better Orgasm" while the twelve-year-olds peruse Seventeen. The audience for most movies about college kids is actually the high school kids who can't wait to grow up and be cool like that. The audience for this Nickelodeon movie about teens is the preteens who can't wait to grow up and be cool like that. Most of those college movies are offensive, trite, and shallow. Clockstoppers is inoffensive, trite, and shallow.

As someone not a member of the target audience, I give Clockstoppers a four out of ten. But if you're between 8 and 12, or you have kids in that age group, bump it up to a seven, for mindless and harmless fun. But watch out, there is that one scene where Zak's friend is shown drooling over a Victoria's Secret catalog….


—If you have actually developed time-stopping technology, please contact RevSF Film/DVD editor Jason Myers at movies@revolutionsf.com.

 
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