Putting a halt to time should be a whole lot more fun than it is in “Clockstoppers,” a blandly conceived youth adventure lacking zing or style. Although those behind the project, notably Nickelodeon, aim to keep matters kid-friendly, script and story — hatched by no fewer than four writers (Rob Hedden, Andy Hedden, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss) — is about swiftly maturing teens, not kids. Helmer and “Star Trek” vet Jonathan Frakes’ taste for sci-fi adventure feels hemmed in at every juncture. Not nearly as engaging as it wants to be, pic succumbs to the sort of evil-scientist-taking-over-the-world plot that undid “The Avengers” bigscreen effort, only at a far more jejune level. Paramount release comes at an inopportune time, competing against several strong family-oriented movies, so B.O. is likely to be in the modest mid-ranges.
Three-minute intro proves an ineffective teaser, as slightly bumbling scientist Dopler (French Stewart) passes through airport security — in unquestionably pre-Sept. 11 conditions — boards a plane, and then is yanked off the plane to a van manned by the evil entrepreneur Gates (Michael Biehn). Back in friendly suburbia, where high school teen Zak (Jesse Bradford) is frantically trying to raise enough cash to buy a Mustang convertible, his scientist teacher dad named, imaginatively, Dad (Robin Thomas), has been working on a process called “hypertime.”
One of those gee-whiz pseudo-science projects that exist only in the movies, hypertime creates a state in which your molecular structure is moving so fast that those without access to the hypertime device can’t see you; the hypertimer, on the other hand, can see them in a frozen state, where time has stopped.
In the right hands, this could be a wonderful tool for humanity; in the wrong hands, of course, it could be the end of the world. In the hands of a curious kid like Zak — which it soon is, after inattentive Dad leaves for a conference out of town — the wristwatch hypertime device is a toy for mischief.
In his “Star Trek” films, Frakes appeared to take the franchise’s rigid, two-dimensional look literally. In “Clockstoppers,” a TV flatness is the distressing norm, and even when Zak stops time, giving viewers a sense of being inside an animated interior looking out on a freeze-frame reality, the final effect isn’t remotely as entrancing as the description suggests.
Far more captivating, at least for young males in the aud, is Paula Garces as Francesca, the kind of super-attractive gal who never walks out the door without her ultra-flat midriff in full view and who would seem to be way out of Zak’s league. After striking out a couple of times with her, though, the persistent Zak wins her attention. And when he invites her into hypertime, she’s his for good.
This stuff is at least a bit charming, and though Bradford mugs too much for the camera, Garces makes for a more-than-able partner.
What ends up consuming the vast share of running time and deflating the movie is the plot involving the evil Gates, commanding the irritating scientist Dopler to manufacture a bigger, better hypertime device. Gates will have his way, ignoring even the all-powerful National Security Agency, and finally, kidnapping Dad himself, until Zak and Francesca come to save the day — and stop some clocks along the way.
Supporting thesps do their jobsindifferently. Biehn is a stick-figure bad guy, and comics Stewart and Julia Sweeney as Zak’s mom bring almost nothing to the antics. Kept to the sidelines as all dads in these kind of movies are, Thomas’ Dad is a nice counterpoint of adult seriousness.
Overall production is rather plastic looking, with visual energy concentrated on the digitally designed hypertime effects.