Film Reviews:


(Gregory Hoblit, US, 1999)

A serious burst of the Northern Lights links a radio ham policeman to his dead fireman father through the ageing wireless. Sounds like a nice idea for a short SF story or an episode of The Twilight Zone. Instead we've a lovingly-made, if too long by half, feature starring Dennis Quaid in dual roles - the middle aged policeman John Sullivan living in 1999 and his dead father fighting fires in the late 1960s. The script uses this fantastic phenomena merely as a device. It is really a story about a guy going through a rough patch in his relationship - his only son beginning to realise that life isn't as straight forward as he'd like it to be.

What follows are parallel plot lines running between 1969 and 1999 that are handled well but lack real depth. The first time the son makes contact with his dead father over the decades (on the same ham radio) is effective and neatly done. To begin with, Sullivan doesn't know it is his deceased father he is talking to, but gradually the impossible dawns on him. As with Back to The Future Part II, knowing the outcome of a landmark baseball game plays a pivotal role.

A series of sequences is set up where we see the cause and effect of this scenario and this provides the film with some of its best time shifting moments. Like when in 1969 his dad accidentally burns the desk the ham radio is sitting on whilst talking to Sullivan, who suddenly sees the subsequent burn mark emerge in the wood before him in 1999. This device is exploited to the nth degree later in the film when his dad helps John solve the identity of a serial killer whose rampage spans the two generations - a crime fighting duo over a thirty year gap. It is at this point where the film parts way with clever conceit and wallows in the realm of the ridiculous.

Structurally, the whole thing feels like a pilot for an ongoing TV series in the Quantum Leap vein. But, the unsubtle welds between the basic SF pretext and the conventional cop/serial killer thriller are all too obvious and the drawn out running time (just a couple of minutes shy of two hours) waters down any emotional effect as the ideas are stretched way too far. It picks up a little towards the end, but by now we are firmly in thriller mode and pushing all the usual cop-tracks-killer buttons. However, the abysmal ending is patronisingly offensive in the worst Hollywood way, looking like a soft-focus Coca Cola advert and scored by Garth Brooks. Chilling. 6/10

Rob Dyer

See also:

Somewhere in Time
The Thirteenth Floor
Time After Time

A-Z of Film Reviews