Anyone nostalgic for those Disney live-action flicks of the sixties and seventies should check out “Clockstoppers.” The movie–about a high school kid who gets hold of a watch that sends him (and whoever is with him) into something called hypertime, a state of moving so much faster than everyone around you that you’re invisible to them, and then uses the device not only to get a beautiful girlfriend and help out his best buddy, but also to save his scientist father from a bunch of evil plotters–may be directed by Jonathan Frakes of “Star Trek” fame, but despite the special effects it’s a decidedly old-fashioned tale, all good spirits, easygoing adventure and heartwarming life lessons. It’s completely appropriate that the piece should derive from Nickelodeon Movies, the television-born outfit that specializes in wholesome, non-threatening family entertainment even while Uncle Walt’s old company has branched out into more challenging waters.
If this were thirty or forty years ago, the picture might have starred the earnest young Kurt Russell or the boyish, not-yet-dissolute Jan-Michael Vincent, but Frakes and his cohorts have been fortunate to secure the services of an eminently suitable substitute in Jesse Bradford. Bradford, who first came to attention as the sweet-natured but struggling protagonist of Steven Soderbergh’s wonderful “King of the Hill” (1993), is the rare young actor who can play a smart-alecky teen without being grating in the process. (To be perfectly honest, at twenty-two he’s a bit long in the tooth to be going the high school route again, but his charm gets him by.) There’s a naturalness to his cheekiness and a simple likableness in his manner that deflect the inclination to dismiss his character, Zak Gibbs, as a self-centered twit. It’s a good thing that “Clockstoppers” has him, because otherwise the cast doesn’t bring much to the party. Paula Garces is a colorless romantic interest, and Garikayi Mutambirwa tries unsuccessfully to instill some energy into the all-too-stock part of Zak’s best friend Meeker, a nerdy dude who’s all too obviously the Token Black Guy (an obligatory presence highlighted in the recent “Not Another Teen Movie”). (His total absence from the picture’s last act is simply embarrassing.) The adults surrounding the youngsters prove a pretty pallid group. Robin Thomas and Julia Sweeney make a dull set of parents–Sweeney in particular is grievously underused–and the fact that a little of French Stewart, the dumb-as-a-post alien from “3rd Rock from the Sun,” goes a long way is evidenced by the protracted footage he’s given as the guy who unwittingly invents the magical watch for the wrong people. Then there’s Michael Biehn, of “Terminator” fame: as the chief villain he scowls and barks out orders with all the charisma of a born-again Ray Milland.
Still, while “Clockstoppers” is far too tepid and unspectacular to be anything but a harmless time-killer–it’s really no better than a movie made for a child-friendly cable network–Bradford’s ebullience and Frakes’ tastefulness make it more palatable than it would otherwise have been. (At least they help one to overlook the absurdity of the premise and the fact that the various speeds at which people and objects move in the story aren’t properly correlated–something acutely obvious in a sequence in which an unseen Zak helps the uncoordinated Meeker dance.) As for the effects, they’re what might best be described as workmanlike, though one moment involving a slowed-down water sprinkler has a smidgen of magic. (Unfortunately, in the numerous shots of Zak walking among people stopped dead in their tracks, the Herculean effort of the extras to try to remain still is all too obvious: the budget clearly couldn’t support any sophisticated visual trickery at such points, and so we’re left watching actors struggling not too breathe too noticeably or to blink.) Otherwise the production has a professional sheen. But the final product is more suited to video store shelves and TV screens than modern multiplexes, where it will seem like an artifact, pleasant enough but slightly moldy, from a distant, more naive time.