2 out of 4 stars
Even though “About Time” is only the third movie directed by Richard Curtis, it feels like his 20th largely because he’s written so many others that are just like it.
After spending most of the ’80s penning British TV shows, Curtis began a slow transition into features and his first screenplay (“Four Weddings & a Funeral”) became the prototype for everything he’s done since. This is great for his considerable fan base (largely over-35, uncomplicated females) but not so much for anyone hoping to see something different.
With the exception of “War Horse” (that was not good for a completely different set of reasons) all of Curtis’ scripts are populated with lots o’ quirky Brits (and always a token American) that toss off pithy one-line quips and greeting-card-deep, meaning-of-life observations. Sometimes this approach works like a charm (“Love Actually,” the first “Bridget Jones” flick and “Four Weddings”), but mostly it doesn’t … like here. In all fairness to Curtis, he stepped outside the box a tad and infused a bit of sci-fi into “About Time,” but it’s also a variation on the most tired of all sci-fi devices (time travel) that isn’t all that original.
Before leaving the placid, seaside Cornwall for law school in bustling London, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), is told by his dad (the always engaging Bill Nighy) that all of the men in their family can go back in time — albeit with a few stipulations and ground rules. Thinking dad is just making a joke, Tim tests out his theory by travelling back to the day before and returns understandably flabbergasted.
Not exactly what most people would consider to be a typical romantic leading man character, the soft-spoken, slight, pale, redheaded Tim is nonetheless immediately likeable in an underdog, everyman sort of way and plans on using his newfound powers to land himself a girlfriend.
In short order Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), an American transplant who tests/proof-reads novels for a living. Perhaps being too attractive for the role, the gorgeous McAdams was given a full mousy makeover. Lent more than just a whiff of misplaced low self-esteem, Mary also wears glasses, little make-up, has plain hair and is adorned in frumpy attire. The first meeting between Tim and Mary initially goes well, then it doesn’t but — learning from his mistakes — he shuffles back and remedies his fumble mouth utterances and (literally) charms the socks off of her. They are inseparable from this point on — which again, is great for romance fans, but for those who like a little tension and mild tumult along the way, not so much. At this point we’re only 30 minutes into an overlong, two-hour-plus movie.
In manner not all that different from the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day,” Tim relives a lot a days and spends the remainder of the movie fixing the problems (or rather, changing the outcomes) for others and — in a big way — his spunky, more-than-offbeat sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson). Easily the most interesting character in the film, Kit Kat is a hippie, free-spirit type with bad taste in men and is involved in an incident late in the proceedings that forces Tim to make a dicey choice between something bad and something worse. It is the only portion of the narrative that provides any noticeable dramatic bite.
Although introduced well and given adequate screen time throughout, the Uncle Duncan character (Richard Cordery) is never sufficiently fleshed-out and plays out as either mildly creepy or innocuously mentally-challenged. Considering all the time he had on his hands and the many lulls along the way, it was a severe missed opportunity on Curtis’ part to not to do more with the Duncan character.
In the end, “About Time” is a diluted, boiled-down version of “Love Actually.” Instead of multiple, interlocking co-plots, we get just one that is singularly-dimensional. Despite being 12 minutes longer, “Love Actually” felt shorter because it was edited so well, moved at a quick clip and gave us a wide range of characters that offered distinct dramatic contrast. This is a film with relatively little at stake and it shows.
With the exception of Kit Kat and the underused Duncan, every character in “About Time” is a slightly different version of vanilla. It is worth noting that vanilla is and always has been the most popular ice cream flavor, but few eat it as is. It invariably tastes better when you add some fruits and/or nuts into the mix and maybe add in a surprise sauce of some sort. (Universal)