Science fiction and soap opera collide in "The Time Traveler's Wife," in which Eric Bana suffers existential commitment issues. Because of a "genetic anomaly," he involuntarily evaporates from the present for minutes or weeks at a time, then randomly reappears from the past or future. Rachel McAdams, in the title role, is understandably irked.
Exploring an emotional bond over time, but not in chronological order, is the hot theme this season. Both "(500) Days of Summer" and "Julie & Julia" rely on flashbacks (and forwards) to tell their tales. Here screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (an Oscar winner for "Ghost") adapts Audrey Niffenegger's novel without straining to make the setup plausible. The only way to watch the movie is with complete, willing credulity. The movie is more about love than metaphysics. Rubin concentrates on creating winning characters and romantic chemistry.
This is trickier than it might appear. Bana first appears in McAdams' life when she is 6 and he is a man of 30 -- a naked man of 30. You see, time travelers vanish out of their clothes and appear at their destination starkers. Bana, speaking from behind a bush, persuades the child to lend him her picnic blanket. Because she is growing up on her parents' estate, with no experience of threatening outsiders, she doesn't bolt, screaming "Stranger danger!" Instead, the pair strike up a friendship that warms over subsequent visits; eventually he spills the beans about their future relationship.
It's a tribute to Bana and the young actress Brooklynn Proulx that these encounters feel charming and innocent, even though he is inserting himself into the imagination of an impressionable child as a mystical superbeing who is her inevitable lover.
When they cross paths years later (in linear time), McAdams is flustered and delighted to encounter her ideal man, just as he foretold. Bana, however, is off-balance; he hasn't yet reached the age when he began visiting the little girl. This is one of the few passages in which the film ponders the sorts of paradoxes, anachronisms, déjà vu and revelations common to time-travel stories. Bana and McAdams relate to each other and their friends (who are in on his malady) as a nice, charming couple with an inconvenient quirk, not guardians of an astonishing secret. They lead a normal life of meeting, mating, marrying, dinners, decorating and child-rearing, interrupted by Bana's time-warp walkabouts.
The appeal of the story is its promise that love is a force that overpowers the laws of the universe, that we can defy time rather than letting it defeat us. But the energy level, the storytelling momentum needed to drive that idea home, is absent. The attraction between the leads is only Hallmark-postcard level romance. You don't believe that they share an invincible love that can batter a loophole in reality, hold death and loss at bay.
"The Time Traveler's Wife" is an uninspired alternative to comic book pandemonium and solemn family dramas, a gloppy serving of late summer corn.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186