Time Changer,” in limited nationwide release, is goofy fantasy hokum with something more on its mind — something about the horrible future (or lack thereof) that awaits us if we do not rediscover God and abandon our selfish, sinful ways. Whether or not you can swallow that premise will likely dictate whether or not “Time Changer” is the movie for you. As helmer Rich Christiano’s pic pauses to explain: “Secular entertainment is one of the biggest tools Satan uses to mislead people.” This is a movie for those who wish to be misled no more.
Those words are spoken by a kindly research librarian (a radiant Jennifer O’Neill), in conversation with 19th-century Bible scholar Russell Carlisle (D. David Morin), who has time-traveled over 100 years into the future to observe the horrible spectacle of a Godless society. Pic opens in 1890, with Carlisle having authored a text arguing that the moral teachings of the Bible are paramount in importance, even if they are taught apart from teachings about God.
Eager for the endorsement of an influential group of seminarians (led by a bemused-looking Hal Linden), Carlisle presents his manuscript for their review, but meets with unexpected dissent from one, Norris Anderson (Gavin MacLeod), who insists that it would be catastrophic for God’s message to be conveyed without also conveying God’s name.
Anderson has more than just a hunch: The son of an eccentric inventor, he has perfected a time-travel machine and journeyed to the dawn of the 21st century — and returned mortified. Desperate to get his book endorsed, Carlisle shows up at Anderson’s laboratory and agrees to go on a similar trip into the future. Carlisle steps into Anderson’s machine only to turn up moments later in a downtown L.A. alley, circa 2002.
The early moments of “Time Changer” suggest a subpar “My Dinner With Andre” in period garb, with Linden and the other seminarians declaiming some distinctly uncinematic monologues about Christ’s authority. When pic suddenly switches gears to something resembling on old “Outer Limits,” helmer Christiano is on firmer ground. Familiar as they are, the scenes of Carlisle wandering about Los Angeles, discovering such things as television, radio and hot dogs are surprisingly enjoyable, probably because Morin is so disarmingly stiff in the role.
But it’s tough to get an accurate reading on “Time Changer.” Often, pic seems to have its tongue planted firmly in cheek, so that when Carlisle runs screaming from a Los Angeles movie theater after a character onscreen has blasphemed, it’s meant to be funny. On the other hand, viewers are expected to agree with Carlisle’s ultimate conclusion that the world is in its final days in 2002 based on the Bible not being taught in public schools, kids being disrespectful to their parents and department stores displaying sexy lingerie. There is something sweetly naive about pic’s astonished contention that this is because morals were taught in a nonreligious context. But it’s not a compelling argument for the Apocalypse.
“Time Changer,” however, anticipates just such a reaction and builds in a series of defenses. Not only is the film explicitly critical of Hollywood cinema in a way no Christian movie has quite been before, there’s a sense that certain Christian films have veered too far into secular territory and that this is the movie to set the genre back on course.
Pic nobly attempts to instill the fear of God in its audience without resorting to the fire-and-brimstone theatrics of its “Omega Code” forerunners, its point being that the “little things” (i.e., the lingerie, the blasphemy) are no less catastrophic than all the debauchery of Sodom and Gomorrah. For audiences who connect with pic on that level, it will likely be all the tougher to shake off.