“The TimeShifters” is a thriller that sports an intriguing premise but can’t quite sustain its ambition, suffering a vast plausibility gap in the translation. It borrows liberally from such disparate projects as “The Twilight Zone” and the theatrical “Time After Time,” yet has problems with basic mathematical calculations and concepts of probability. For this and other reasons, the TBS original winds up inspiring at least as many questions as it manages to answer.
For starters, the audience is forced to buy into a hugely bizarre concept at the outset: There are people out there who long to travel back in time simply to be on the scene of famed disasters and experience the tragic rush. Not only that, but a travel agency exists that will send thrill seekers careening back onto the Titanic or into the eye of Hurricane Hugo for a hefty fee.
Kind of a stretch, frankly. But let’s try to go with it. OK, so we have this tabloid reporter named Tom Merrick (Casper Van Dien of “Starship Troopers”).
While poking around for dirt, he notices three historical photos all featuring the same pasty-faced, stringy-haired guy (Julian Richings). The only problem is that these photos were taken on board the Titanic, the Hindenburg and Hurricane Hugo, all disasters that happened over the course of 80 years, and the guy doesn’t appear to have aged a day. The sloppy script from exec producers Gay Walch and Kurt Inderbitzin has Merrick saying it’s “100 years apart,” but we’ll merely assume that math isn’t his strong suit.
So wouldn’t you know, while Merrick is jetting off to do more research, he just happens to see the same time-traveling weasel from the photographs on the plane. Boy, talk about your coincidences. Turns out this dude is a tourist from the future hell-bent on having a catbird seat to a midair collision. And only Merrick can stop it from happening, since it actually already occurred.
Confused yet? Don’t worry, you will be. Turns out the man bought the four-event special from the time-travel disaster travel agency, and his next big moment will be a subway pileup. You probably don’t even need to be told that Merrick (and his magazine researcher/love interest Elizabeth, played by Catherine Bell of “JAG”) will just happen to stumble into our Zelig-like traveler on the very first subway train they eye.
Such is the way it goes in “TimeShifters,” whose title conjures up images of a VCR-setting club. Courtesy of scribes Walch and Inderbitzin, it degenerates into a pat and contrived chase movie complete with bumbling FBI agents and evil travel agency operatives who tote guns. One of the latter pair is a rapscallion named Cortez (Cortez!) who is played with a snivelingly sinister magnificence by Theresa Saldana.
Van Dien and Bell prove to be more or less plastic heroes, though helmer Mario Azzopardi is able to wring a semblance of stylish mayhem from the ashes of strained catastrophe. Indeed, “TimeShifters” somehow succeeds in holding our interest despite its thin grasp of 20th century history and basic math. Film is technically average, though camera work from Derick Undershultz and his team often sparkles.