Time Runner (1993)

Time Runner

Mark Hamill feels like an untapped resource as Time Runner opens. He is best known for the Star Wars saga and a number of films more recently have given him a higher profile, yet back in the 80’s and 90’s he was really only noted for his turn as the Joker in the animated Batman world. There were a few roles that Hamill took that went under the radar and Time Runner is the perfect example of this.

A somewhat complicated time travel tale sees Hamill thrown back in time to stop a plot to reshape future events. The story borrows a little from The Terminator and attempts to be a little cleverer addressing time paradoxes, however, creates some more in its wake. As a concept it seems a little heavier than typical time travel sci-fi movies of the period, and ultimately fails to make an accessible and coherent story.

Poking around looking at scores online Time Runner doesn’t do well with most reviewers and fails to score particularly well, and I would not be as hard on it as others, however, it’s not a good movie.

The movie is front loaded with special effects and lures the viewer into a false feeling that this is something comparable to Blade Runner … or The Time Guardian for that matter. The effects are quite good for a cheap, Canadian, direct to video effort. However, during a fairly strong opening we endure a painfully long slow motion sequence completely over-scored as a particularly villainous looking villain arrives to meet with some scientists. Initially, this sequence adds a little style to production, however, as it continues minute after minute, attention frays.

Aside from this slow motion sequence the film moves at a breakneck pace for the first 30 minutes as we are fed the setup, introduced to Hamill and some of the concepts the film would deploy as the music keeps the blood pumping.

One of the concepts the film plays with is the idea that Hamill gets flashforwards of events that could happen in the next few minutes and he has the opportunity to change his actions and ultimately the upcoming events. It’s a neat idea that could have really worked well and in its defence, isn’t overdone. To make things a little more goofy, it turns out others can see these visions as well if they are standing beside Hamill. Whilst this eliminates the need to convince people of what is happening it just defies logic entirely. Once the opening 30 minutes is over the film slams into a very routine chase movie as Hamill and his new found pal Arnie outrun the baddies in cars, planes and on foot whilst firing guns at one another.

Hamill is pretty decent in the lead role, if unremarkable. His character isn’t the most likeable and really doesn’t have much in the way of a character arch other than the mission at hand. An emotional moment occurs in the last 20 minutes when he meets a character from his past/future-future/past and any opportunity to build something is squandered for the sake of a chase.

The character of Arnie, played by Gordon Tipple, is the surprising addition. He isn’t just a pal for Hamill to get into situations with, instead he is a formidable accomplice and has much to do during the climax. Rae Dawn Chong appears in a pivotal role as a scientist and really doesn’t seem like she wants to be there. She isn’t treated as a love interest by the story and other than spouting science jargon and running around with Hamill, doesn’t have much to do until the last few minutes.

It’s worth noting a cute nurse in the back of the ambulance was played by Brion James’ wife, however, she is only on screen for a minute at most. James looks to be having fun in what amounts to two roles, for the same character. One variant of the role is a little cringy as he wears an executive suit and spouts lines as if he were a Messiah. The second is a modern day politician and James relishes the little speeches offered and feels a lot more natural.

The cast are more than up to the task, but the director can’t draw anything out of the cast other than the bare minimum. Director also fails to keep the pacing consistent as there are a number of scenes in the second half that slow things down dramatically given the fairly intense pace of the first half. Car and plane chases are admirable, although the other action is marred a little by the inclusion of sound effects from a popular first person shooter video game. Yeah, gun fire comes from Doom and the door opening sound effect can be heard from time to time.

Time Runner isn’t as terrible as most will make out, it’s not good, but it has its moments and I found myself enjoying quite a few elements. As a lover of quirky Direct To Video movies, Time Runner doesn’t make any huge mistakes, merely loses its way from time to time. The biggest fault is the story is a little too ambitious for a runtime that spends more time looking for cheap thrills than fleshing out the interesting ideas it touches upon.

Time Runner has a terrific poster and one that stood out on the video shelf to my little teenage scifi loving eyes. Space ships, guns and the guy from Star Wars, what could go wrong? I dug up another poster for a foreign release called 2021 Invasion Alien… that seems to be completed off the mark, the film is set in 2022 and there aren’t any aliens getting invaded…

Time Runner (1993) can be found after a lot of searching, it has been released on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD, however, the DVD seems to be Region 1 only and in the UK is not the easiest to find. I comes up for auction from time to time and it doesn’t sell for too much.


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