Studio: Inception Media Group
Director: Thomas Gomez Durham
Writer: Thomas Gomez Durham
Producer: Thomas Gomez Durham, Alesandra Durham, Brian Paul
Stars: Alesandra Durham, Joel Bishop, Terence Goodman, Chris Laird, Ian Paul Freeth, Danor Gerald, Alix Taulbee, Anne Hansen
An FBI agent confronts a decision about altering her future when she discovers an ability to travel backwards through time.
A certain amount of nonlinear scene arrangement is par for the course whenever time travel plays a part in science-fiction. “95ers: Time Runners” makes heavy use of backtracking, flash forwarding, and alternate timelines running in parallel. Yet it does so in such a way that instead of establishing multi-layered intrigue through a carefully constructed mystery, it feels like the movie’s people, places, and things were thrown in the air and inserted wherever they fell in the storyline on the floor.
The film opens on a wordless scene of a little girl dressed in black staring vacantly out a snowy window. It is Christmastime, and insert shots of a coffin and a cemetery make it clear that this girl has just lost a parent. Time suddenly rewinds, snow travels upwards in the air, and opening credits roll.
Cut to a man and a woman speaking cryptically in slightly obscured silhouette:
Woman: It’s time.
Man: Is the record ready?
Man: How detailed is it?
Woman: I left a few things out.
Man: Good. Keeping you anonymous is the best way to keep you safe.
Woman: The navigator needs to have enough to go on. He needs to insert you before they find the tipping point. Do you understand?
Man: Better than anyone.
At least someone understands, because I don’t. But that’s okay. Plenty of movies start with seeds of mystique that grow into revelations. Requiring the viewer to be smart, pay attention, and keep pace is a perfectly reasonable expectation.
Jump to a bald man who appears to be falling asleep at his Minority Report console where he remotely monitors a man named Horatio in 2003. From his seat in a Thai restaurant, Horatio watches a Christmas caroler strumming her guitar outside and instantly falls in love. The caroler resembles the silhouetted woman from the previous scene, although she is wearing a horrible wig, but logic presumes they are two versions of the same person.
Cue a three-minute montage of Horatio and the woman, Sally, going through the entirety of their subsequent courtship until Sally is seen in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of walking contemplatively through a graveyard. The same graveyard as the little girl from the beginning? Maybe.
Before you know it, Sally is back at her house, eight months pregnant and hosting a theater troupe rehearsing “A Christmas Carol” in her living room. An older woman and a younger girl linger behind, implying some sort of familial relationship with Sally.
Given her singing, guitar playing, and community theater participation, one could be forgiven for presuming Sally to be a homebody soccer mom. Actually, she is a top-notch FBI agent doing her best Fox Mulder impersonation as she pieces together paranormal anomalies on a U.S. map while looking for a pattern.
What does all of this have to do with the aforementioned navigator, tipping point, grieving girl, silhouetted man, and random people populating Sally’s kitchen? Presumably, “95ers: Time Runners” is still coming to that. But it takes so much time getting there that the movie has trouble sustaining interest along the way.
The problem is not that the threads do not come together fast enough to tease a satisfying bigger picture. The problem is that the story’s direction is never clearly established, making so many of the pieces on the board appear as if they are placed without purpose.
“Memento” unspools in reverse. Clues crystallize gradually, yet there is always awareness that the storyline involves uncovering a motive for murder. “The Usual Suspects” is another example of a connect-the-dots thriller. There, although the details are filled in slowly, the viewer at least knows that the purpose of the plot is to reveal Keyser Soze’s identity.
With “95ers: Time Runners,” it is established far too late what the story even is. It takes until the 30-minute mark to learn that Paige, the older woman who seemed to be a mother figure, is actually Sally’s sister-in-law and the younger girl is Sally’s niece. By this time, it is still not stated who the bald man or the silhouetted figure are. If they are monitoring time or traveling through time, let alone for what purpose, is just as ambiguous. So is whatever Sally is doing. She has not yet clued into her ability to travel backwards in time by nine seconds, the script is still getting to that.
In the meantime, “95ers” hands out a lot of characters with unspoken names, unspecified relationships, and unknown reasons for existing in the first place. Holding back plot points and key reveals to create suspense is one thing. Keeping the audience in the dark about what they are even waiting for is something else entirely.
The sad thing is, it is obvious that the filmmakers have a great deal of heart invested in the project. It shows. But so does the freshman film structure of a first-time feature director.
“95ers” is conceptually sound at its core, but the choices made in how to present the story make for a choppy narrative. Skipped frames and jump cuts look like editing gaffes instead of a stylish way to shorten shots. Actors are inconsistent. No one is particularly “bad” per se, but several of them deliver dialogue with overemphasis that can be attributed to the director not dialing everyone in to the same pitch. Luckily, lead actress Alesandra Durham, who can easily be confused for Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men,” is called on to carry much of the film and is capable of doing so.
The last name Durham appears in the credits enough times to suggest that a family affair motivates behind the camera passion. Clearly, everyone involved gave the best effort they could and made the best movie possible given the budget and the material. Unfortunately, the essential piece missing from “95ers: Time Runners” is not cast and crew devotion, but a unifying meaning that ties it into a cohesive story.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene. “95ers: Time Runners” was also originally titled “95ers: Echoes.”
Review Score: 55