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
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
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