Both a teen romance and a story about having the ability to literally stop time in its tracks, "Clockstoppers" is a family-friendly fantasy that ends up doing very little with its imaginative premise. Following a few novel scenes in the first half that take clever advantage of these ideas, screenwriters Rob Hedden, J. David Stern, and David N. Weiss put on autopilot as they deliver a tired action-movie climax.
Dr. Earl Dopler (French Stewart) has made a major scientific breakthrough with a process he calls "hyper-time," which gives a person the ability to move so quickly that it appears everything around them has stopped. In an attempt to solve the quick human aging that accompanies the use of "hyper-time," Dopler sends one of these special watches to his mentor, Dr. George Gibbs (Robin Thomas). With George away on business, his teenage son Zak (Jesse Bradford) stumbles upon the powers of the watch, using it as a means to impress his dream girl, Francesca (Paula Garcés). Unfortunately, when the secret government Dopler is working for, headed by Henry Gates (Michael Biehn), discovers that the watch is missing, they go after Zak and Paula to retrieve it.
Directed by "Star Trek" alum Jonathan Frakes, "Clockstoppers" stands as a minor diversion that loses its way after a promising first half, and gradually disappoints with each mounting inconsistency in the plot. The idea of "hyper-time" is a fascinating one, and some of the special effects are rather cool to look at, as Zak and Francesca make their way around a city of people, cars, animals, and water that have seemingly come to a standstill. After a while, though, the many contradictions in this logic begin to bog the proceedings down. Things that regularly would move at a plodding pace can be seen slowly moving while in "hyper-time," while really fast things, such as the cars on the road and a fan, don't appear to be in any sort of motion at all. The speed of things in this time state, it seems, do not move based on scientific reason, but on whatever is convenient for the plot.
Director Frakes loses his way in the second half, forgetting the magic of the opening scenes in exchange for jumbled and cliched story developments. The finale, especially, is a hodgepodge of messily thought-out science-fiction elements and dull-witted action setpieces.
What does work to a more successful degree are the attractive performances and nicely subtle chemistry between Jesse Bradford (2000's "Bring It On
") and Paula Garcés (1995's "Dangerous Minds"), as Zak and Francesca. For a movie primarily targeted at pre-teens, the delicate romance that blossoms between the two is charming. One scene, in particular, set to Uncle Kracker's surprisingly good cover of the '80s Cyndi Lauper song, "Time After Time," is lovely. When the ill-fated plot finally goes into overdrive by the one-hour mark, the promising treatment of Zak and Francesca's relationship is put on the back-burner.
While undiscriminating pre-pubescent tweens may find a lot to be entertained with in "Clockstoppers," everyone else should be able to pick up on all of the sloppiness found within the screenplay. Whether the budget simply wasn't generous enough to let the filmmakers use more mileage out of its intriguing key conceit or not, "Clockstoppers" simply doesn't make the cut. What a shame it is to take such original ideas, and then recklessly cobble them together with boring fight scenes and chases that we've seen a hundred times before.
©2002 by Dustin Putman