Robert Dyke’s “Time Quest” is one of those movies that really had the potential to be something special. But alas, the film’s second half is a combination of silly happenstance and, in the last 20 minutes, extraneous footage that don’t seem to have any purpose for existing other than to pad the movie’s running time. Aside from those two issues, “Time Quest” is a Time Travel movie constructed from a clever screenplay and enough political gags to please anyone familiar with American politics of the last few years.
Ralph Waite stars as a mysterious time traveler who appears in the Dallas hotel room of Jackie and John Kennedy on the day JFK is to be assassinated. With knowledge of the future and a groovy holographic video display at his disposal, the time traveler convinces the Kennedys, along with firebrand brother Robert (Vince Grant), to alter their itinerary for the day. Also wishing to save JFK’s reputation for the sake of posterity, the time traveler drops the dime on closeted cross dresser J. Edgar Hoover (Larry Drake) and informs the Kennedys about all the conspiracy elements as if he had just finished watching Oliver Stone’s “JFK”. And if Stone’s influence isn’t apparent enough, Bruce Campbell (the “Evil Dead” films) plays a movie version of Stone, doing a fictional movie about a conspiracy taking place in Dallas in 1962 that doesn’t involve JFK getting killed.
For its first 40 minutes or so, “Time Quest” fires on all cylinders. The film constantly jumps back and forth through time, employing non-linear chronology to unfold a tale about how an old man, tired of his world, invents time travel in order to travel back in time to save JFK and thus, alter history forever. It’s in these first 40 minutes that Robert Dyke (“Moon Trap”) starts to convince me that he’s a master storyteller, and that he’s covered all his bases when it comes to time paradoxes and whatnot.
And then the inevitable happens: the film abandons potential for Fantasy Wish Fulfillment about how the world is all bubbly and bright now that JFK is still alive and how man is suddenly colonizing planets outside the solar system. I suppose this part of “Time Quest” is inevitable. Those who hero worships Kennedy has always claimed how great and super things would be if their man hadn’t been gunned down in Dallas in 1962. With JFK suddenly still alive in the daydream of “Time Quest”, Vietnam gets a 2-minute courtesy scene and most humorously, JFK makes peace with the bellicose Soviet Union by — get this — making Nikita “We will bury you!” Krushchev an offer he (supposedly) can’t refuse. Yeah. Right.
Even when “Time Quest” fumbles the football in much of its second half, it still manages to offer up more of the clever scripting so readily apparent in the first half. In this new, altered timeline, the old man/time traveler is no longer the idealistic scientist, but rather a burgeoning criminal name Raymond Mead (Joseph Murphy). You see, in the new timeline (the bright and bubbly future where JFK is alive) the time traveler never became a time traveler — or at least, not yet. There are some attempts at tension by insinuating that Robert Kennedy may or may not kill Mead in order to prevent him from discovering time travel. Which brings up this observation: If someone indeed went back in time to ensure that JFK was killed in 1962, wouldn’t they be, er, putting things right?
A cast made up of very capable actors help sell all the good ideas in “Time Quest”. As JFK, Victor Slezak (“The Cat’s Meow”) does a stellar job, even if he doesn’t look a lick like JFK. But the real standout has to be Caprice Benedetti (“Shaft”), who just radiates beauty and class as the tortured Jackie, whose husband is frolicking with Marilyn Monroe on the side and every other harlot who lifts their skirt in his direction. Benedetti excels in the role and is easily the film’s best actor. Vince Grant, as RFK, does well with the one-dimensional role he’s given. Surprisingly, the cast’s known names, Larry Drake (“L.A. Law”) and Barry Corbin (“Northern Exposure”), only show up in brief cameos. Even Bruce Campbell, whose character offers so much promise, unceremoniously disappears at about the same time the film ceases to be intriguing.
All this is made possible with what must have been a miniscule budget. The movie seems very constrained at times, but enough hard work goes into the recreations of 1960s Dallas as to make the whole thing passable. Also, there are clever little nods and gags scattered throughout the landscape to make the contemporary viewer forget that “Time Quest” doesn’t have a Hollywood budget. Still, the cinematography by Lon Stratton is mostly workmanlike, saved only by Dyke, who tosses in every camera trick he knows to make the movie constantly creative. Of particular note are the scenes shot through a (purposely) limited 8MM handheld camera ala the Zapruder film.
The other problem with “Time Quest” is that the film feels like it was never meant to be a full-length feature film. An hour long, perhaps, would have been the ideal running time. The additional 30 minutes just don’t seem to work, even if Dyke’s writing abilities still manages to come through. There are also a lot of potentially confusing elements in “Time Quest”, made even more so by Dyke’s non-linear narrative. Be warned: you will need some knowledge of American history, and have seen, or heard about, Stone’s “JFK” in order to fully “get” the movie.
I like Time Travel movies, but I like Time Travel movies that are done well even more.
Robert Dyke (director) / Robert Dyke (screenplay)
CAST: Victor Slezak …. John F. Kennedy
Caprice Benedetti …. Jacqueline Kennedy
Vince Grant …. Robert F. Kennedy
Bruce Campbell …. William Roberts
Barry Corbin …. Lyndon Johnson
Larry Drake …. J. Edgar Hoover
Ralph Waite …. The Time Traveler