While meticulously working on his time machine, inventor Ethan Walker decides to use himself as a guinea pig due to his previous test providing unclear results. When he’s zapped into the future, Ethan finds out he’s wanted for the murder of his wife and his sister. Managing to escape the authorities in the future, Ethan sends himself back into the past to find out what happened and to stop the murders from taking place. Something that’s easier said that done as Ethan soon finds himself on the run from an unknown corporate entity that wants his time traveling technology.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! A man travels forward in time and finds out he’s responsible for the murder of his wife and his sister. Now he must travel back in time and solve the crime before it happens.
I know it sounds like the perfect Tom Cruise movie (assuming that there’s an additional plotline where Tom Cruise has to save the world…again) but, no. This plot belongs to “Counter Clockwise” — the feature film debut of one George Moïse. And I know with that snarky opening, you can already guess how I felt about “Counter Clockwise” and…you’d be right. But not for the reasons you might think.
I’ll give credit where credit is due and tip my hat to George and his writing partners, Walter and Michael, for taking on a time travel story for their first feature film. Personally, I’d rather spend the rest of my life at Lilith Fair than deal with the frustration of writing a time travel story. I mean, the logistics alone of trying to make a functioning story, without any paradoxes, is enough to make you go, “pfffft” if someone were to ask you to write that kind of script.
And to further the compliments towards the tackling of a time and space narrative, I also enjoyed that time was treated as being cyclical. Perhaps it was the best way to avoid being bogged down by the potential for paradoxes, but by using repeating loops, it allowed “Counter Clockwise” to move more freely. As the movie progresses you understand the cause-and-effect that is occurring without the use of exposition — you understand character decisions and narrative direction without it having to be explained. The cyclical theme also allows for some creative filmmaking and storytelling — setting up a gag early in the movie only to have the punchline towards the end. Overall, that aspect made “Counter Clockwise” fun to watch.
What didn’t make it fun was just about everything else, unfortunately. Again, to give credit where it is due, “Counter Clockwise” is a competent movie (for the most part). By that, I mean, for a low-budget feature, it’s a slick looking movie. Some nice camerawork (albeit, overdone at times) and some good set pieces. But “Counter Clockwise” suffers from a problem where the movie itself feels like it has no life to it. It has the parts that it needs in order to function but it’s missing that one special piece to bring it all together. “Counter Clockwise” is a race against the clock kind of movie where our main character has to prevent/solve a murder. Yet, there’s no suspense. There’s no tension in the chase scenes. You watch as characters are gun downed but somehow it never feels like there’s anything at stake, even when there is.
And while the movie came across as dull to me I’m not entirely sure where the problem lies exactly. Redundancy in the story? A little bit, maybe. Even though I couldn’t name a movie with a similar plot off the top of my head (outside of “Minority Report” and that one is a stretch) yet somehow “Counter Clockwise” has that “been there, done that” feeling to it. It doesn’t help that the antagonist of the movie is an evil corporation that wants the technology that Ethan Walker (our protagonist) has developed. Then again, originality in a story isn’t crucial. How you tell your story is just as important and “Counter Clockwise” tells its story decently.
I think what stops the effectiveness of the story is the insertion of comedy and attempts at dark-comedy. A science-fiction film about time travel can have an element of comedy and still work but the use of comedy in “Counter Clockwise” made it seem like the movie wasn’t taking itself seriously. Almost a Troma-esque tone of self-awareness. Especially when the insertions of comedy stops everything in the movie. Like having two unknown-thugs pick up Ethan and one of them spends the entire car ride talking about how he’s going to rape Ethan and force him to give a blowjob.
In general, that’s not a funny scene. What’s exactly suppose to be the joke? That Ethan is going to get raped or that it’s unexpected to hear a thug say he’s going to rape another guy? Regardless, it’s an attempt at humor that stops the tension of the scene (this is occurring in the middle of a chase), it ruins any tension in the mystery (who are these men, how do they know Ethan, why did they know where to find him, etc.) but worst of all it creates audience confusion. You’re taking a serious moment and stopping it dead in its tracks and asking the audience to switch gears in an instant.
That’s how a lot of the humor ends up playing out. Another case is when Ethan meets the head of the corporation who’s out to get him and the actor proceeds to do his best-worst impersonation of Frank Booth. The chewing of the scene might be amusing, but again, you’re taking a movie that’s trying to maintain a suspenseful sci-fi tone and now turning it into complete schlock. The comedic scenes are usually over-the-top to a point that, again, it makes it almost seem like the movie is mocking itself when it was asking me, the viewer, to take it seriously in the previous scene.
The insertion of comedy, whether it be straight or dark, could have worked within the context of “Counter Clockwise” but the way it was handled worked against the movie in the long run. It damaged the tone and the pacing which caused the movie to feel like there was no energy in the story. That being said, I’m not about to count-out George Moïse as a filmmaker since there were other aspects to “Counter Clockwise” that were done well. But, as far as low-budget time travel movies go, there are better titles out there that are worth checking out instead of “Counter Clockwise”.