Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Running Against Time (1990)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.

It didn’t take too long after the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. for television to jump in the ring. Aside from the myriad of news stories and profiles on that fateful day, the made for TV movie joined in with The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1977), which takes a look at what may have happened had Oswald lived and faced his day in court. In the 1980s, America was looking at the 20th and 25th anniversary of JFK’s death and a number of specials were released. On the fictional side, one of the most interesting productions was a 1985 Twilight Zone segment titled Profile in Silver, which shows what may have happened if Kennedy had survived. A few years later, the USA Network took that grain of an idea and turned into a full length TVM called Running Against Time.

Robert Hays is David Rhodes, a college professor and historian who is interested in how time and history repeats itself. He is also obsessed with his brother, who died in Vietnam, and many of David’s studies/obsessions are about how the world may have been different if JFK had lived and pulled the troops out of the war (assuming of course, that he was intending to). Mostly, David is stuck in the past and although he has a gorgeous, smart and caring girlfriend (Catherin Hicks as Laura), he can’t seem to move past the loss of his sibling. Laura is also a topnotch reporter and she’s just landed an interview with a Nobel prizing winning scientist named Dr. Hendryk Koopman (Sam Wannamaker). Dr. Koopman is working on time travel and has secured funding for a major project. Of course, as you can guess, the kindly Dr. and professor’s paths cross and before you know it, David is on his way back to 1963 to stop the Kennedy assassination.

Wut the what? Yup, David believes that he can save his brother and thousands of other lives and he convinces Dr. Coopman to let him be the first human time travel experiment. Unfortunately, the whole thing gets started on the wrong foot and while David is successful in meeting up with Oswald during the fateful moment, he is not quick enough to stop the assassination, and is also pegged as Kennedy’s killer! Oops. This changes history, of course, and now Laura must go back to fix things, but it gets all kinds of messy once again and we start to see that history refuses to not repeat itself, even before it’s history.

Running Against Time is an extremely economical production, with fine actors, but silly SPFX and a bare bones recreation of Kennedy’s assassination. Aside from the three leads, the other factor working for the TVM is that it’s an interesting concept played out as earnestly as possible. Like, Profile in Silver, the protagonist has an emotional tie to history (although the character in The Twilight Zone is a few hundred years removed from the relative in question). David’s deals with a loss that was, tragically, not all that uncommon, so it’s easy to feel for him, despite the numerous bad decisions he makes. Further, Laura loves David and that connection brings her story some resonance. Although we keep watching a sort of whirlpool of mistakes, Running manages to never slip too far into the sentimental, and always manages to pull out something smart before it gets too silly.

That is until the ending. My biggest quibble with the fantastical tele-film is how it concludes. No spoilers here, but I thought it gave in to the saccharine it was trying to hold at bay. I should probably also note that I’m no time travel expert, and the science in Running looks clunky. I mean, even by 1990 small screen standards. So, if you are a sci-fi nut and a stickler for proper terminology, etc, this movie might be annoying (but then again, how would I know?). However, there is this really cool plot device that shows how time travellers can communicate through the personals! Who cares if science can’t back that up? It’s neat!

Based on the novel A Time to Remember by Stanley Shapiro (who also wrote the teleplay), Running premiered on the USA Network on November 21st, 1990. While it didn’t garner a huge amount of press, it did get mostly positive reviews. USA aired two encores on November 25th and December 1st. And, like so many other USA movies, it’s available on VHS.

1 comment:

Lacey said...

Time Travel stories are always interesting because they are ways for the author to get something off THEIR chest, and not really about the concepts of time and personal interaction. The basic story is usually just set dressing for what the author is really feeling. The original Twilight Zone used this story idea a few times including saving President Lincoln, and killing Hitler before it was too late. I think the "what if" idea was best presented in "The Butterfly Effect," where the author points out that change is not always for the better.

As for communicating through personal ads, that was an old idea even by 1990. It was the crux of Issac Asimov's book, "End of Eternity" in the 1950s. The mark of a good writer is to borrow from the best.