Directed By Michael and Peter Spierig
Opens January 9
There is no movie star who more fully embodies the “one for them, one for me” ethos than Ethan Hawke. In the past year he’s alternated between subtle and challenging work in Before Midnight and various Shakespeare productions, performances that sandwich his sleepwalk through Getaway. How unfortunate that Boyhood, which has him literally moving through the years, should be followed soon after by Predestination, a warmed-over Timecop that seems desperate to be considered a cult item.
Hawke stars as “the Bartender,” a “temporal agent” who jumps from year to year in pursuit of the “Fizzle Bomber,” a terrorist all characters agree is both hugely dangerous and weakly named. An extended stage in his investigation involves him slinging booze for “the Unmarried Mother,” a mysterious character played by Sarah Snook, whose convoluted history—and future!—could lead to the bomber.
As much of the film is Unmarried’s story in flashback, including stints both in a secret government space program and as a writer for a pulp magazine, it would be a spoiler to reveal anything more, though reveals may not even be possible considering how muddled the twists become. Suffice to say the grandfather paradox is nothing compared to what happens here, and that no single actor could make all facets of this character even remotely plausible or consistent.
The film is generally watchable on a moment-by-moment basis, and the Spierig Brothers, who wrote and directed, have a good eye for sci-fi visuals, starting with the shockwave produced by the time machine, which (charmingly) looks like a trumpet case. That said, their eye in the film’s best sequences mostly reflects superior titles like Dark City and Darkman.
Despite some feigns towards profundity (truly, doesn’t time catch up to us all?), it doesn’t take much reflection to realize how little there is here by way of substance or thrills, and just how unbelievably skeevy the key emotional moment is. Predestination tells the kind of story that calls out for multiple viewings, but with the kind of storytelling that makes that an unappealing prospect. At least Hawke’s next role will be one for him, and for everyone with taste.