You’ve got to hand it to Christian filmmakers like Rich Christiano. They must constantly feel like the Christians of ancient Rome trying to survive in the Coliseums. There’s probably no greater irony than the presence of diehard Christians working in an industry famous for its lack of morals. After all, there’s no greater pool of depravity and soulnessness than the fine folks in Hollywood.
“Time Changer” is an oddly titled movie about Russell Carlisle (D. David Morin), an idealistic bible studies professor in 1890 who is sent 100 years into the future. The purpose of Carlisle’s visit is to discover for himself the shocking nature of a mostly godless future. In 1990, Carlisle is confronted with all manner of sins, from rude children, lying teenagers, suspicious adults, and a public school system that teaches the proper ways to put on a condom but will fire you in a heartbeat for mentioning the word “God”.
I always like to preface reviews of such a niche movie like “Time Changer” with this statement: I am not Christian. As I mentioned in my reviews for other Christian-themed movies like “Joshua” and the “Left Behind” series, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a priest and a pastor or a reverend — and I wouldn’t know if there was even a difference to begin with.
The above aside, “Time Changer” works best as a comedy. And while the movie does have its heart in the right place, and it’s endearing to follow Carlisle through this seemingly alien world, the movie does hit some road bumps along the way. It’s not that I don’t believe what Christiano’s screenplay is saying (in fact I agree with him!), but as the old saying goes, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union”. Movies are about entertainment, and “Time” entertains me tremendously when it stays true to its Fish Out of Water elements, but I start to lose interest when it loses interest in entertaining me.
“Time” hits its mark when it confronts the everyday situations of the late 20th century — situations that are generally accepted as okay until you actually think about them. Take the scene where Carlisle is eating in a ’50s-themed restaurant and encounters a rude waitress, then overhears two teens planning a night of lying and getting drunk. Or a scene where a girl in a park steals Carlisle’s hotdog because she was just “playing around”. Later, Carlisle is introduced to mannequins in revealing outfits, and then a bellboy who expects money just for showing him to his hotel room. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Certainly nothing exaggerated.
“Time Changer” never once exaggerates its Fish Out of Water situations because it doesn’t have to. All of these things seem perfectly normal to us, but are they really that normal if you take the time to think about it? After all, why should you pay a bellboy for leading you to your room? And why are waitresses so damn rude to perfect strangers? And are kids plotting elaborate lies in order to get drunk really a good thing? In a world like this, Carlisle is seen as weird. But is he really? Or is he just more sane than the rest of us?
“Time Changer” is an effective movie when it doesn’t try too hard. The budget, as is the case with most Christian movies, was probably very low. My guess is that the budget for “Time” wouldn’t be enough to make 30 minutes of a normal 60-minute TV episode, much less a feature-length movie. The acting is acceptable and even good, and while lead Morin takes some getting used to, his scenes in the future are dead on. Morin shows the perfect balance of shock, anger, and fear at the fate of his fellow man. When Carlisle gets up to make a final speech in a church before returning to 1890, you can practically hear the deep regret and sadness in his voice.
“Time Changer” works when Christiano allows it to play out, but stalls when it stops everything in order to preach. The movie certainly has a righteous cause, a good heart, and its Fish Out of Water situations are as funny as they are shockingly “normal”. If what Carlisle says is true, then we are definitely going to hell because I can leave my apartment right now and bump into every single one of the “sinners” featured in “Time” without breaking a sweat.
Geez, where’s a bible when you need one?
Rich Christiano (director) / Rich Christiano (screenplay)
CAST: D. David Morin …. Russell Carlisle
Gavin MacLeod …. Norris Anderson
Hal Linden …. The Dean
Jennifer O’Neill …. Michelle Bain
Paul Rodriguez …. Eddie Martinez
Richard Riehle …. Dr. Wiseman