Cinema as a medium lends itself to playing around with time. Just as the cut between shots in a film creates meaning, it also allows filmmakers to mess up chronology and time. It is no coincidence, then, that temporal manipulation is the theme of hundreds of films—and not just Christopher Nolan’s. Unfortunately, Volition, a new time-travel film from director Tony Dean Smith, is too derivative to stand out from the pack. And worse, its overwrought sci-fi script completely falls apart in the film’s third act.

Volition follows James (Adrian Glynn McMorran), a shady figure who has the occasional gift of clairvoyance. In a detail borrowed from Back to the Future, he uses this mostly to win small-time sports bets in order to fund his nascent alcoholism. One day after leaving a bar, James meets Angela (Magda Apanowicz) as a man is trying to sexually assault her, and intervenes by making wisecracks.

This episode reveals so much about the director and his film: in the year of our Lord 2020, Smith apparently believes it is perfectly acceptable to use a rape situation to establish the male hero’s bona fides. Poor Angela has the agency and dignity of a pound puppy, completely dependent on the largesse of some benefactor to make her life better. This meet-cute premise—sort of a feminine equivalent of the equally pernicious Magical Negro—shows how out of touch Smith is in another way as well. That James is presented as a snarky, unkempt drunk who gets by on lame one-liners makes this plot feels decades old, which isn’t the sort of time travel it’s going for.

Even if you’re willing to give Volition a pass on its outdated use of rape, it doesn’t get much better, as James undertakes some criminal misadventure with Angela—still as voiceless and without agency as ever—an unwitting tagalong. The pair get caught in the middle of a diamond fencing operation complete with the usual double-crosses in an elaborate first act that ultimately builds to a bizarre time-travelling climax in the final act. As there always is, some half-assed quantum mechanics is used to explain how everything works, and, it seems that Smith hopes viewers will not look too hard at or think too much about these explications. As a science fiction story, Volition thoroughly collapses in these final moments because none of it makes any sense; as a human drama, of course, it had collapsed as soon as James first set eyes on Angela.

All of the plot failures would be easier to overcome were Volition original or clever. But all of the time travel elements are just rehashed versions from films as diverse as Source Code and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, without the cool space optics of Interstellar or video game effects of Edge of Tomorrow. As far as the plot twists and character arcs, those are also warmed-over repeats of previous films. Nothing here is new, and some of the old should have been left far in the past.


The thoroughly misguided plot feels decades old, which isn’t the sort of time travel it’s going for.
40 %
Antiquated Rehash
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