Synopsis: A devoted husband will stop at nothing to save his marriage when it’s destroyed by a time-traveling rival.
Stars: Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Freida Pinto, Orlando Bloom, Jadyn Wong
Director: John Ridley
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Is there anything more outright depressing than watching four talented (and, let’s be honest, gorgeous) actors loafing around in a truly ridiculous bit of nonsense filmmaking? Oh geez, but Needle in a Timestack is as eye-rolling as its title suggests, and despite the presence of those four aforementioned stars, two of which will surely win an Oscar within the next decade, it’s a real effort to get through and even then you feel no sense of accomplishment. What makes it even more of a depressing miss is that the team involved in front of and behind the camera could have collaborated on something more worthwhile and not wasted the precious time the very plot of the movie is so adamant about protecting.
I can see why rising stars like Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (One Night in Miami…) would be swayed into taking on the leads in this adaptation of a short story written in 1966 by Robert Silverberg. Directed by Oscar winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), the project had some relative glitter of attraction with Ridley’s script giving some modernity to Silverberg’s futuristic (for the era) story of a husband and wife torn apart by a fissure in time caused by the wife’s former flame. For two actors looking to have more dramatic arcs in unconventional stories that didn’t expressly call on their roots in musical theater, this had definite potential to show their clear range.
What they couldn’t have predicted is how much of a goober the story would come across to viewers, or how inconsequential nearly every event would feel when filtered through Ridley’s flat dialogue, his rote direction, and Ramsey Nickell’s solar flare golden hue cinematography which feels like an ad for a Nissan Altima circa 2004. Patch in an at times overly committed Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) as Erivo’s jealous ex Tommy who literally rewrites her history so she will be with him and Freida Pinto (Hillbilly Elegy) second banana-ing her way through an underwritten female role who exists just to be the fallback girlfriend for whatever man isn’t with Erivo and you have something decidedly uneventful. And it’s nearly two hours long.
The strange thing about Ridley’s movie is the way it’s so earnest and forthright about some relationships (i.e. the leads) but so cagey about others. Take Jadyn Wong’s character Zoe, the sister of Odom Jr.’s Nick who influences much of his decision making about how to fix the problem that Bloom causes. After Tommy manipulates time to bring Janine (Erivo) back into his life and cut Nick out like he never existed, (it’s more like Total Recall than anyone wants to admit) Nick turns to Zoe for advice concerning her ‘best friend’ Sibila who she has a ‘special relationship’ with and also has a time mishap to solve. Ridley’s insistence on classifying this Zoe/Sibila relationship as ‘best friends’ throughout is akin to saying two men living together and sleeping in the same bed in the ‘80s were ‘dedicated bachelors’ or ‘special friends’. If the film weren’t about such honesty in relationships, this severely awkward entanglement between these two women (not to mention Wong’s obsessive need to say ‘Sibila’ in a gravely surfer twang in each line of dialogue) just sticks out more like a sore thumb. Let lesbians be lesbians, please.
It must also be said that as charming and commanding a presence as both Erivo and Odom Jr. are onstage and onscreen, they lack the necessary chemistry together to provide Needle in a Timestack that earnest edge to give us reason to care about their relationship being restored. To be clear, the acting isn’t at fault in the least because both are the least embarrassingly bad things about the movie, but they seem to be united in just getting through the film sitting comfortably in the friend zone. On the plus side, Erivo has just released an EP of original music that’s quite good and is prepping a promising sounding remake of The Rose while Odom Jr. has a nice role in the sequel to Knives Out in 2022 and will star in the intriguing trilogy continuation of The Exorcist. And check Pinto out in Intrusion on Netflix where she gets to be the star in a creepy home invasion thriller. Consider this Needle just a tiny prick in the midst of a greater haystack of more fulfilling projects these actors have set into motion.