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Needle in a Timestack: Great cast lead emotionally vacant dramatic sci-fi

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Oct. 15, 2021 - 10:16 PM

Needle in a Timestack: Great cast lead emotionally vacant dramatic sci-fi


Review by Jonathan W. Hickman

Review Rating: 4/10

“Needle in a Timestack” has all the emotional depth of a perfume commercial. And that’s surprising.

After all, the film is written and directed by John Ridley, Oscar-winner for writing “12 Years a Slave.” And the problems with this movie fall squarely on his talented shoulders.

The near-future narrative centers on Nick (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and Janine (Cynthia Erivo), a loving couple living in uncertain times. In their universe, time is constantly in flux. Waves of change wash over the planet daily, bringing with them entire new realities. And because this potentially world-damaging technology is readily available to anyone who can afford it, changing everything is common.

When Janine’s wealthy, bitter ex-husband (Orlando Bloom) uses time travel to separate Nick and Janine, the question is whether their undying love will resurface. Can time travel overcome the power of love?

Putting aside the utter ridiculousness of the world constructed by Ridley, “Needle in a Timestack” barely registers as a romance. The time-altering dynamic keeps emotions cold and at a distance. While Nick exhibits his sensitive side, wearing his fears on his sleeve, everyone else is emotionally vacant.

And when Nick decides to hire a company in a shopping mall to put his memories in an electronic vault to guard against time-shifting, the film’s whole narrative contrivance seems almost comical. Janine is in on the joke, commenting that he’s safeguarding their memories at a store beside a Footlocker.

A “Footlocker?” I had to Google whether that shoe store from the 1980s was even still around. Answer: it is. And in this movie, shopping malls are also still a thing.

There’s not even a hint that maybe all these wild and weird occurrences are the product of a computer simulation (see another odd, romantic, sci-fi misfire 2019’s “Serenity”). I wondered whether Nick was experiencing mental illness, was in a coma, or something, but that creative read of this movie gives it too much credit.

Ridley wants us to buy into the gimmick of time travel for the masses without any questions. He makes no effort to explain any of it.

Time travel is a frequent filmmaking story device; I suppose Ridley believed viewers didn’t need

context. Of course, this movie is released during the same week that 90-year-old William Shatner went to outer space, so viewers may not need additional explanations.

However, I was frustrated and groping for a little more information. “Needle in a Timestack” wouldn’t even be on anyone’s radar if it wasn’t for the impressive cast.

Ridley likely leveraged his reputation to step behind the camera, and, understandably, he’d attract major talent. Unfortunately, the decision to tell this story was a misstep. Indeed, a writer as gifted as Ridley could have embraced another tale more worthy of his talents.