by Ed Symkus

Here we go again. Someone out at a Hollywood meeting gets the lamebrain idea to do a remake of a film that, since its creation some 40 years ago, has been regarded as a classic. Why don't these people learn to leave well enough alone? Sure, there's a possibility that a great film can be bettered. But first, why bother? And second, I can't think of one instance where that's actually happened.

I don't have room enough to go into the multitude of reasons why this movie does not succeed in this task. But please, consider a few.

Guy Pearce is completely miscast, not because of his looks or his acting style, but because he just doesn't seem the least bit interested in the part. He walks and bumbles (and rides his big, bright machine) through the whole movie with a lost look on his face. Maybe this is supposed to be ironic, but his character looks out of place even in his own time, never mind when he goes shooting into the future.

Other cast members fare better than him. In her film debut, Irish pop singer Samantha Mumba is quite good -- showing off a relaxed and natural screen presence -- as Mara, part wild woman, part earth mother, part girl who needs rescuing. And Orlando Jones gets a few laughs out of a somewhat straightforward role as a piece of technology in a library from the future. The less said about Jeremy Irons as the Uber-Morlock bad guy, the better. But I can't help myself: He looks like Edgar Winter on a bad day; his powers are never explained; and even though he does talk all about his back story, none of it makes any sense.

Before going on about what's wrong with the film, perhaps a brief synopsis is in order. Scientist-inventor Alexander (Pearce) is brilliant, rebellious, messy (there's always chalk on his clothing), dabbling away at new projects (he comes up with an electric toothbrush at the turn of the 20th century), and amazed at new things around him (he can't keep his eyes or hands off one of those "perambulators" that might one day take the place of horses). When his fianc & eacute;e is killed in a robbery, he flips out, retires to his laboratory, and comes out four years later with a machine that will enable him to travel back in time, change history and save her.

What's the world to do with us purists? There was no fianc & eacute;e in the H.G. Wells book or the original George Pal movie. The character -- nameless in the book, called George in the film -- simply wanted to travel through time because he was a scientist, because he wanted to see if it could be done. Why this woman has been thrown in is anybody's guess.

Worse, why, when traveling backward doesn't achieve the required effect, does he decide to go into the future to change the past? And why, when he gets there and finds that only one person speaks English (Mara, naturally), does everyone else suddenly start speaking English?

This would be in the year 802701. But there is an earlier stop, not long after the turn of the 21st century, in a sequence featuring moon rocks falling on Manhattan, re-shot since Sept. 11 to show the results but not the process of the destruction. (This is just another bit of nonsense that really takes away from what could have been a dynamic sequence.) Then he's off again, accidentally going on that very long time trip, to where most of the rest of the film takes place.

All sorts of special visual effects -- a few of them very good-looking -- are front and center in the film. One of them -- styles changing in a dress shop window -- is blatantly lifted from the original film, but most of them come across as visual special effects, which is exactly what an effect should not look like. Why haven't more people -- I'm addressing you, here, George Lucas -- taken a cue from 2001: A Space Odyssey and seamlessly woven effects into their film?

But that's a whole other argument. The main concern with this botched remake is that there's so much wrong with it and so little good about it. A good science fiction film must have some logic to it. There is none here, certainly not in the spectacular-looking (but empty) effects-heavy climax in which hordes of bad guys -- oops, forgot to mention the hideous, obviously computer-generated Morlocks -- are dispatched while all of the good guys miraculously escape destruction. And there's the penultimate moment when villainous Jeremy Irons seems to forget whether he's in The Time Machine or Soylent Green. He suddenly looks at Pearce and says, "You have your answer, now go."

He goes, all right, but once again, what he does makes not a lick of sense. So now it's my turn: You have your review, now don't go.

Santa Express

Through Dec. 20
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