By Lynn Venhaus
Typically, movies about time travel make my head hurt because I overthink things and raise too many questions as I try to figure out the logic.
No need to waste precious brain cells on determining what’s going on in “Needle in a Timestack” because most of it doesn’t make any sense anyway.
In the ‘near future,’ time “jaunting” has become a luxury afforded the wealthy in this sci-fi romance, where architect Nick (Leslie Odom Jr.) is worried that his soulmate wife Janine (Cynthia Erivo) won’t be in his memories because of her ex-husband and his former friend Tommy (Orlando Bloom) messing with altering events in time, which is called “phasing,” and is disruptive in multiple facets of life. Can he stop it or manipulate time to make sure she is in his life?
And that’s a shame because the cast is full of likable performers that you usually want to root for, but their characters are vapid and spout ridiculous psychobabble about love. The two couples are such ciphers lacking much personality and possess all the trappings of comfortable modern life, so what’s the problem? Or, for that matter, the point?
Based on a short story by Robert Silverberg that was first published in the June 1983 issue of Playboy, he had previously published a collection of ten short stories under the same title in 1966 and decided to reuse the title for this story.
Let’s count the ways this project screams ‘misguided.’ For starters, John Ridley, Oscar winner for the adapted screenplay of “12 Years a Slave,” squandered energy on rewriting a story that does not translate well nearly 40 years later, given how there is such a gap between the 1 percenters and the “have-nots” – it smacks of privilege and one more thing to resent the “haves” about.
Surprisingly tone-deaf, the script is superficial in its portrait of married couple Nick and Janine as well as their prior significant others Tommy (Orlando Bloom) and Alex (Freida Pinto).
For all the talk of forever love, Nick and Janine sure don’t look happy. He’s an architect and she’s a photographer, and they live in an airy, ultra-modern home straight out of Architectural Digest.
Nick is consumed by thinking Tommy is trying to snare Janine, but Nick is quite a glum malcontent – and we get generic shots of him not looking happy.
And when a big phasing happens, whoa – he’s back with his beautiful girlfriend Alex – and she seems miserable because he’s such a mopey guy.
Tony winners Leslie Odom Jr. and Cynthia Erivo – he for “Hamilton” and she for “The Color Purple,” are much in demand after Oscar nominations – he for “One Night in Miami” and she for “Harriet.”
However, two premier vocalists do not even team up for a song post credits.
Orlando Bloom’s character is underwritten and puzzling. One phase has him behaving like an entitled rich guy and the second wave turning him to benevolent best bud following his bliss by pursuing his dream, being with the girl of his dreams and concern about his pal Nick.
And wouldn’t these phasings that alter people’s lives cause tremendous chaos in the real world?
Nick’s sister Zoey – a marvelous turn by Jadyn Wong, a bright spot, pays a lot of money to tamper by switching a friend’s tragic loss, but consequences, while threatened, appear to be random or non-existent.
And where are we? We are in a never-mentioned big city, and as the film was made in British Columbia, I assume it is Vancouver, but why assume? It just seems to be plastic and slick without a reason to stay engaged.
Trying to explain this is indeed a head-scratcher. Love is a circle. Let’s move on.
“Needle in a Timestack” is a 2021 science-fiction romance directed by John Ridley and starring Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Orlando Bloom and Freida Pinto. It is rated R for some language and its run time is 1 hour, 51 minutes. It opened in theaters and was available on digital Oct. 15; and on DVD, Oct. 19. Lynn’s Grade: D.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.