Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel just isn’t up to the task.
Director Gareth Carrivick’s 2009 sci-fi comedy is the sort of self-aware product you watch when you can’t watch Edgar Wright’s celebrated Cornetto Trilogy. And with time travel tropes replacing zombies, Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel gives up quite a bit of love for Shaun of the Dead. Yet Carrivick and screenwriter Jamie Mathieson fail to convey the joy so evident in their inspiration. The movie feels less like genre sendup and more like a low budget episode of Doctor Who full of f-bombs. Its execution is lackluster, but Chris O’Dowd’s comic charisma elevates this dull vehicle to something that might actually be worth streaming.
O’Dowd plays Ray, the type of British sci-fi nerd who would rather everyone referred to the genre as speculative fiction. He has a real affection for time travel stories, and his friend Toby (Marc Wootton) is an aspiring writer who shares that affection. Toby keeps a notebook full of what he dismisses as bad ideas–that gives him the cover to never start writing. Pete (Dean Lennox Kelly), the last of the trio, hates sci-fi. He’s just a bloke who’s hoping to get a promotion at the game park where they all work. While Pete and Toby rustle up business outdoors dressed as dinosaurs, Ray has a sweet inside gig playing a space ranger. Until he loses his job, that is. Suddenly, an inside gig opens up for Toby and Pete, but first—in another Cornetto-like touch—Ray is off to the pub to wash away the sorrow of sudden unemployment.
Strange things start happening over pints. A beautiful American woman named Cassie (a criminally underused Anna Farris), explains to Ray that she’s a time traveler on official business—filling up time holes–and she knows that one day Ray is going to achieve something that benefits humanity. He doesn’t believe her, of course. And why would he? He’s just an unemployed game park worker and she’s way out of his league. The most likely explanation is that the boys put her up to it.
Unfortunately, the boys start feeling the effects of the time holes after Ray tells them about Cassie. Poor Pete gets it the worst. After singing a powerful rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in the bathroom. Pete returns to the bar to find everybody slaughtered. His situation worsens from there after every bathroom break sends him to a different timeline. The toilets have turned into a malfunctioning TARDIS; trapped in time travel paradoxes, they are victims of the holes until help arrives.
Cassie comes in and out of the adventure warning Ray to avoid the editors, villains who kill people at the height of their notoriety. The gang must also avoid bumping into themselves at the pub and the apocalyptic landscape—which is their fault, but which they may also correct. They must avoid stepping on any butterflies, so all the usual time travel rules apply, but few are explored, and the movie becomes an uninventive feedback loop.
With a comedy pedigree (thanks to O’Dowd, Farris and Wooton) that appears topnotch, this is the kind of movie that arouses curiosity, but it is not the undiscovered gem it may appear to be. There’s a reason its 10th anniversary has passed without notice. Carrivick, whose credits include the pop parody series “Rock Profile,” and Mathieson, who actually wrote three episodes of “Doctor Who,” slog through too much setup for a fast-paced third act payoff. Few viewers will wait that long, and that’s a shame. More than any other genre, science fiction, especially given its all-encompassing role in pop culture, could stand to laugh at itself.Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel just isn’t up to the task.