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The Time Traveler's Wife (12A)

Don't waste your time

Reviewed,Anthony Quinn
Friday 14 August 2009 00:00 BST

Those who enjoyed The Curious Case of Benjamin Button may like to turn next to The Time Traveler's Wife.

Both appeal to a taste for star-crossed, quasi-profound romance, and both dabble in kinks on the space-time continuum. Both, I should add, are the silliest mush imaginable. Perhaps the gazillion-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, on which it is based, had something more to recommend it, though I do wonder. If the sum of Benjamin Button's thinking was, "Isn't it sad that people get old?", then Time Traveler's is "Isn't it sad that people die?"

The set-up is briefly told. Clare (Rachel McAdams) has been in love with Henry (Eric Bana) since she was a little girl, though their encounters with one another have been sporadic, for Henry suffers from a rare (actually, non-existent) genetic disorder that causes him suddenly to slip back and forth through time. So he might be shaving one moment, and disappearing into thin air the next, waking up in another time zone, completely naked. That could be funny, or even creepy, particularly when he lands up in the bushes near a meadow where the six-year-old Clare is playing. But the film is too earnest and po-faced to see the comedy value in the idea, and Bana himself, despite a background in stand-up, is toweringly humourless on screen.

What's surprising about this is how little "time" is actually travelled. Henry doesn't go back and experience interesting stuff like the Civil War, or the Depression. There seems to be no point to why he disappears at all, aside from a device to keep him and Clare apart. Having established its outlandish sci-fi premise, the story does absolutely nothing with it (just as Benjamin Button did nothing with its reverse-ageing anomaly). This proves to be as true of the present as it is of the past. We see Henry disappear at unexpected moments, but they're never so unexpected as to be dangerous, or dramatic. Say he'd been driving his wife to hospital, or babysitting his daughter for the evening – what if he'd done his vanishing act then? But no, the story always allows him a poignantly graceful exit, the proof he stood there lying in a pile of his discarded clothes. Cast a decent comedian in the part and this might have been a hoot. Instead they've tried to cloak a very dull love story in pseudo-poetic significance. You might feel like disappearing yourself.

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