Friday, April 20, 2012

Out of Time - A Film Review From the Lost Acres of Cable Television Programming

I have just watched a terrible, terrible film and feel compelled to describe it to you in almost pornographic detail. It will not be enjoyable; in fact, tears will likely be shed. I cannot in good faith guarantee that those will be your only secretions while reading this, but only because the way I arrange paragraphs is so damned sexy.

I was sitting around, scanning stations on my cable box, when I came across a film I'd never heard of, called Out of Time. A very generic title, admittedly, and as such it isn't what caught my eye about it. What did, though, was the blurb that followed the title in the small box allotted for the film. It stated that the film came from the desolate realm of 1988, and the second of the two actors listed was Bill Maher.

You have no idea how much I had to massage Google to return an "Out of Time" image not related to the Denzel Washington film. I give and I give for you.
Perhaps you're familiar with Bill Maher; perhaps you're not. If you are, regardless of the level of joy you derive from his HBO talk show and his periodic polemics disguised as standup specials, you'll understand why I found it rather straining of credibility to see his name on a film summarized as (and I brazenly paraphrase), "A detective travels to the past to help his great-grandfather, an inventor who is not yet famous." Or words to that effect; I chalk up my forgetting of the actual text to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I immediately assumed that there must have been another fellow named Bill Maher acting in the late eighties,
who fell into obscurity and now sits at his local pub and feigns a smile when someone mentions that he's got the same name as someone famous. Unable to leave my curiosity to its own devices, I clicked on the program to confirm my suspicions. The first image to pop up on the screen was that of two men crouching and sneaking about, exchanging cringe-inducing banter that went something along the line of, "If we get out of this alive, remind me to kill you." Ha.

I never recognized one of them (probably to his credit); the other was comedian and talk show host Bill Maher. And I'd be remiss not to add that, other than a haircut to alleviate his atrocious eighties bouffant he sported in the film, Bill Maher circa 1988 is virtually indistinguishable from Bill Maher circa 2006. I think he's sleeping in a formaldehyde solution in a Tupperware container out in Burbank somewhere. To put it another way; if you have in your possession a vial or canteen filled with the blood of the innocent and pure and virginal, and you're hosting a party that you think Bill Maher might be attending, you should probably lock up your vial in the unused closet where you put your valuables and the DVDs you think might get lifted while you entertain your guests.

So enchanted was I with the quality of the initial banter and its nakedly irony-deficient delivery by its two stars that I lost my ability to operate my remote control for the remainder of the film's running time. I am not blameless in this, nor do I take full responsibility. If rival cable networks wanted me to be able to retain my motor skills and be able to surf to their channels, then they should have thought of that in advance and done everything in their power to halt the airing of a film like Out of Time while there was still some measured sanctity in life.

Now then, about the film itself. No, I didn't forget. The premise is this: a cop from the twenty-first century develops a time machine, or otherwise gains access to one (I missed the first bit, so I'm not sure which). Now endowed with the limitless power granted to one who has the ability to TRAVEL THROUGH FUCKING TIME, this man did what any rational, sane and clearheaded individual would do after contemplating all of the astonishing eras and epochs he could witness.

He went back to 1988.

Perhaps that diminishes the absurdity of that statement to have it listed numerically. Let's try again:

There are a lot of things I'd like to see if I had the ability to travel through time, but I've gotta admit that the filmmakers had caught onto something big with this; all of them pale before the sheer majesty of NINETEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT.

So, Timecop wasn't going back in time just to sight-see. He was making contact with his great-grandfather, who is apparently going to be a famous inventor if the cable box blurb is to be believed, though I saw almost no mention of it in the running time I saw. I'm assuming someone said something about it during the first fifteen or twenty minutes that I missed. I'm also assuming I won't lose any sleep over not seeing this critical placesetting by the filmmakers. Literally the only reference, as well as the lone variation on the rote buddy-cop movie banter found in every other buddy-cop movie ever made, came in the form of Timecop occasionally using laughably primitive devices that are supposed to be from the future and hearing Bill Maher say how "I can't wait until I get around to inventing THAT!"

So, Bill Maher is the great-grandfather, who is toiling away inauspiciously in NINETEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT as a cop. Cheeky reference is often made that these two guys have 'cop' in their blood. Clearly neither man playing these cops had 'competent agent' in their Rolodexes. There's a girl, too, who is tagging along for no reason I could divine from what I was given, and it's painfully obvious from my first moment of plot comprehension that the girl was going to end up with Bill Maher and thus be the great-grandmother of Timecop. This seems greatly at odds with Timecop's demeanor throughout; indeed, his rapt determination to protect and preserve Bill Maher's existence is only matched by his complete indifference for what befalls the girl who's constantly and inexplicably with them. Whatever the mysterious twenty-first century future holds for us, we can now from this film definitively say that it does not include training police officers in the pivotal role that vaginas play in the reproductive and lineage-assurance processes.

Now, I was never able to make heads nor tails of the driving narrative that pulsed beneath the veneer of buddy-cop cliches that glazed across this film; there was a villain-type who did a lot of sneering, and who was apparently trying to rob a bank using some of the futuristic technology that is also available to Timecop. I'm assuming that the villain was also from the future, and also saw no better destination for his Machiavellian might than NINETEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT. However, I wasn't provided with sufficient evidence to opine whether he knew the importance of a vagina in babymaking. Villainy in the future, it seems, does not necessarily disqualify one from proper reproductive information access.

Evidently Bill Maher was a Live-Wire Cop On The Edge ™ whose crazy antics and disregard for the rules had him constantly at odds with his bosses, who waited until a crucial plot point was needed to finally strip him of his badge and, for no reason I could tell, lock him in jail briefly. Sprung from doing hard time, he strode angrily into the parking lot to see Timecop and the girl waiting for him and proceeded to argue furiously that it was Timecop's fault that he'd been demoted (to nothing, it seems). The two men got into each other's faces momentarily before Bill Maher punched Timecop in the face and knocked him down. Timecop jumped up, checked his nose for blood, and promptly punched Bill Maher in the face. Now, to their credit, the filmmakers eschewed the cliché of the girl trying to get between the two guys and begging them to stop since their violence wasn't solving anything.

No, instead she pulled out a camera and grinningly shot pictures of the two men taking turns punching each other. I promise you I am not joking nor embellishing. One of the two men, clearly exercising as a mouthpiece for the poor, poor, poor, poor audience, asked why she was photographing them. I don't recall her justification, something about how rare it was to have a chance to see two dudes from different centuries in a fistfight or some shit. Shockingly, it's only NOW that Timecop lets Bill Maher know that they are in fact related, a revelation which appears to hit Bill Maher like a ton of bricks; evidently Bill Maher only knew that Timecop had come back from the future to help a long-lost relative, yet failed to connect the dots after all of Timecop's time in NINETEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT was spent in a virtually umbilical state to Bill Maher.
There's now some claptrap about an explosion that's supposed to happen soon; of all the explosions in history, it seems the one worth building a flux capacitor to try to prevent happens in NINETEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT. Granted, I didn't major (or even minor) in Important Explosions Throughout History, but I have serious doubt that the explosion in a subway tunnel that stands a chance of killing Bill Maher before he can become a famous inventor will rank in the top five.

Timecop insists that Bill Maher stay away from the tunnel where the explosion is supposed to happen; yay, problem solved, end of film, right? Mission accomplished, time for Timecop to get back to Jane, his wife, and his boy Elroy? Nope. Clearly exhibiting signs of the visionary inventor he's destined to be, Bill Maher rushes directly to the subway tunnel while yelling that it's their only chance to stop the sneering asshat from robbing the bank he traveled back in time to heist. Insanely, he convinces Timecop to let him sprint into danger's path with the following quote, which this time I took care to remember to quote exactly so you can come to gain some measure of how truly ridiculous this film is:

Timecop: "It's impossible!"
Bill Maher: "Impossible is an excuse for the weak, and a challenge for the bold!"

Surprisingly, the tagalong girl failed to photograph Bill Maher saying this, forever denying future generations a pictorial representation of the stupidest sentence ever dripped from human lips. Anyhow, impalpably, the explosion in the tunnel goes off as planned and Bill Maher isn't harmed, leading me to beg and pray for the film to be over with the catastrophe averted and the pending invention of Cinnamon-Scented Neuticles by Bill Maher now definitively assured.

But no.

Inane showdowns ensue, with Timecop and the villain in what would be a Mexican standoff if only Timecop's study of the past he'd be visiting had unearthed that he'd needed to bring a fucking GUN to his final confrontation with the armed (and disarmingly British) villain. I should point out now that the villain wielded what filmmakers with no money in the late eighties thought that villains in the middle twenty-first century would use to shoot people when touring the late eighties. His gun looked like a plastic laser gun homemade by some Battlestar Galactica enthusiast, and the act of shooting it consisted of the actor standing very still so the "special" effects team could rotoscope a bright blue line into the shot, moving out of frame replete with exactly the type of ridiculous laser sound effect that you just imagined when reading the phrase "ridiculous laser sound effect." The recipient of said blue laser shot then recoils in the requisite discomfort, accompanied by a shower of sparks emanating from the assumedly impacted area. Please don't let your mental image sell short the notion of this shower of sparks; we're talking about a massive burst that tells me that either the pyrotechnic engineers on this film moonlight as employees at a fireworks stand, or that people who get shot with lasers tend to be carrying pockets full of flint.

Timecop manages not to be shot with the laser, but only due to a heroic and needless gesture by Bill Maher, who dives in slow motion into the path of the laser and intercepts it with his chest before it can hit the man who is now at great risk of being forever unborn after his great-grandfather valiantly took a laserbeam to the fucking chest for him way back in NINETEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT, forever severing the family tree four generations early.

The sneering villain vanishes now, leaving Timecop and the tagalong girl to kneel above the fallen Bill Maher.

The next thing I'm about to tell you will make you certain that I've invented Out of Time and everything in it as some sort of cruel masochistic prank against your imagination; all I can give you is my word that it's all true:

Timecop pulls out a small plastic rectangle with a clear center, which looks almost exactly like a photo slide, and places it on Bill Maher's forehead. Yellow and red LED lights flash in the small clear center of the thing, which Timecop regards solemnly.
Tagalong Girl: "What's that?"
Timecop: (standing to give chase to the villain) "It's a health detector. Call an ambulance!"

That's right; unsatisfied with the blatantly inferior empirical evidence of Bill Maher's just having been SHOT IN THE CHEST WITH A LASER and lying on the floor visibly dying, Timecop needed his suspicions confirmed by a flashing light on a photo slide applied to the victim's eyebrow. There appears to be no limit to the amount of knowledge willfully denied to police officers in the twenty-first century; when that time comes we'd better make sure all roads have those padded cushions along the sides like in the children's lane in a bowling alley, just in case a hapless police officer comes driving along who hasn't been told how to simultaneously operate a motor vehicle and re-moisten his eyeballs by quickly closing and reopening them.
So Timecop takes off after the villain, eventually finding him in some sort of electromagnetic tomb preparing to destroy a large amount of real estate, which is probably for the best considering the detriment to property values that would ensue when said real estate is revealed to have been featured scenery in Out of Time. Timecop breaks open the chamber and defeats the villain, and realizes that the only thing he can do to prevent Bill Maher's death is to rewind time again. Remember, he's proven repeatedly that he's a bit slow, so it's excusable that he's just taxiing into this fact now.

Again, I'm not joking nor embellishing in any way when I say this: we're now treated to a rapid rewinding of the last half hour of the film. All of it. It whips by in reverse, with Timecop un-defeating the villain, and Bill Maher being un-shot in the chest with a fucking laser, and Bill Maher un-rushing stupidly into the tunnel he knows is about to violently explode, and Bill Maher and Timecop un-punching each other in a police station parking lot while their future wife/great-grandmother un-plays paparazzo to the un-ordeal.

And somehow, impossibly, when the rewinding is finally done and we rejoin the film in forward motion, despite our clearly having rewound to WELL before there was any danger of Bill Maher again being shot in the chest with a fucking laser…

…the moment in time that we rejoin is the moment that Bill Maher leaps chest-first in front of Timecop and gets shot with a fucking laser.

The villain again runs away, and this time there's no forehead-broadcast slideshow when Timecop and the tagalong girl kneel over Bill Maher. Instead Bill Maher lies very still for a moment while the soundtrack tries to make us believe we've had to cruelly endure his remarkably coiffed demise twice in five minutes, and then he opens his eyes and smiles. The tagalong girl is perplexed and demands to know how he's okay; frankly, some measure of this perplexed determination would have behooved her when it came time to read the script to this film, printed as it was on bar napkins. Grinning knowingly, Bill Maher sits up and opens his shirt to reveal that he was wearing A BULLETPROOF VEST and is just FINE!!

I can't squeeze any meaning out of this, so I'll just repeat it: Bill Maher was shot in the chest with a laser, then had the luxury of not being shot in the chest with a laser due to a rewind in time, then allowed himself to be re-shot in the chest with a laser because he'd now been given the foreknowledge that he was soon to be shot in the chest with a laser, and took the precaution of donning a Kevlar vest before he jogged off to be shot in the chest with a laser. We know now why Bill Maher's life must be preserved for the benefit of future generations, as the filmmakers have so cannily revealed as their masterstroke; he can bend the laws of physics just as his descendent bent the laws of time, and has somehow managed to defeat the light-based inertia of a laser beam using only a cloth vest filled with metal plates, despite the seemingly discouraging fact that neither of those items can actually do so.

With Bill Maher's life now guaranteed, and the tagalong girl finally realizing she's got feelings for him and his eighties hairdo, Timecop's work in NINETEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT is evidently done. No thought is given to the guy who shot Bill Maher and then ran off to his electromagnetic womb to unleash hell; apparently Bill Maher's Kevlar vest was strong enough even to deflect THAT.

But Timecop has one last chore on his to-do list, and that chore is to brazenly rip off the end of The Terminator. With it comes my last chore, which is to again assure you that I'm not making any of this up; what I'm about to tell you is the actual end of the film, to the abject horror of all who must watch it. Our final scene of the film is of the tagalong girl reading a letter that Timecop wrote for her before he left, in which he details how they're related and how utterly, like, mindblowing it was that he met her in the past and will never know her in the future due to their four-generation age difference. He closes his letter by saying that he'd "included something for you to remember me by."

And what memento might he have chosen for her to have, as a reminder of the epoch-defying adventure she'll always be moved by when she takes the time to ponder it?

Why, it's the picture of him punching Bill Maher in the face! The same picture she took for no reason whatsoever earlier in the film! It all had MEANING after all!

And the closing credits roll over that frozen image, with Timecop grimacing angrily from behind his swinging fist, and Bill Maher's distorted face whipping into the foreground from the punch. I'm not fucking kidding; telling you about it is my only hope for diluting it in my own head, and maybe eventually getting some closure. So haunted am I by this film that I'd assume that any peace of mind for me is impossible now, but I've learned this fine day that "impossible" is an excuse for the weak…

…and a challenge for the bold. Ain't that the truth.

My final verdict: Bill Maher should go to sleep every night thankful that I am the only human being to ever bear witness to this film's existence.

(originally posted to myspace in March 2006)

1 comment:

  1. This sentence made me laugh and hyperventilate till tears ran down my cheek: "Bill Maher was shot in the chest with a laser, then had the luxury of not being shot in the chest with a laser due to a rewind in time, then allowed himself to be re-shot in the chest with a laser because he'd now been given the foreknowledge that he was soon to be shot in the chest with a laser, and took the precaution of donning a Kevlar vest before he jogged off to be shot in the chest with a laser." well done sir.