Needle in a Timestack  Review – An original sci-fi premise ruined by bland execution
There’s such an abundance of time-travel movies these days that it’s difficult to put a pin on which one used a rather original approach to the same old, same old. While many filmmakers have often fallen short taking up a high-concept time-twisting roller coaster, some have succeeded in churning out freshness out of the ordinary. With “Needle in a Timestack” director John Ridley (known as the screenwriter of Oscar-winner “12 Years a Slave”) wishes to use the time-travel phenomenon to show the ups and downs of contemporary relationships.
It’s another thing that his dramatic shifts are so fabricated and downtrodden that he dumbs down his interesting concept with a banal and uninteresting film that is hard to sit through. To clue you in, Leslie Odom Jr. stars as Nick and Cynthia Erivo as Janine. The movie insists on telling us that the husband & wife are soulmates; sans the constant repetitive monologue about Love being a circle, but, there’s simply isn’t any chemistry here to make you believe in it.
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Anyhow, this sci-fi romance doesn’t end at high-tech cellphones with a charming voice playing as futuristic Siri. No sir! There are time-lapses or as the movie proposes ‘time shifts’ whenever some rich kid chooses to do some ‘time jaunting’ (this is supposed to be like a technical term for traveling back in time to fix certain things). Nick believes that Janine’s ex-husband Tommy (Orlando Bloom) is using this technology to change small things in their past so that they eventually turn away from each other. Another shift happens and their pet dog is now a cat and another invisible tidal wave of time-shift completely changes things out of thin air.
Now, Nick is supposed to do something about it, or at least he claims he should but never does and more and more unnecessary expositions happen where the central relationship is turned upside down. Some clever ideas about how it takes more than ‘love’ to save a relationship are thrown in but none of them stick.
Most of it has to do with just how awful the execution is. Director John Ridley is obsessed with this juvenile idea of love; something that you would find in computer-generated web pages on the internet, and does nothing else to make his characters even remotely interesting. As the protagonist, Nick is just a supremely unpleasant fellow who is always latching onto the idea of losing things. I mean, if Ridley would have at least investigated his insecurities well, one would see things differently. However, the director’s approach is so heavy-handed and banal that wherever two characters are conversing, you pay more heed to the music playing in the background than what they have to say about their life.
The drama is so morose and manufactured that “Needle in a Timestack” eventually becomes a chore to sit through. There are four great actors at the center of this sci-fi romance but none of them feel like they are even remotely into whatever’s happening in the film. Tony award winners Odom Jr. and Cynthia Erivo sleepwalk through their roles and Jadyn Wong (who plays Nick’s sister and counselor of sorts) is the only one who feels like she is doing her bit to the best of her abilities.
There’s no denying the fact that on paper “Needle in a Timestack” serves as an intelligent sci-fi premise with oodles of potential. A film about a time-traveling ex-boyfriend who is trying to break off a relationship between two seemingly made-for-each-other people swells up some interesting noir ideas ups in my head. But, there’s no Adjustment Bureau here and Nick is no Humpry Bogart whose messed up love-life could save this debacle. At least they are not joking about the film with a title like this. Fair warning right there.