3 1/2 stars

by Stephen Notley

Yeah! That's it! That's how you do the time thing! Forget The Time Machine's cheeseball trip to the future. Clockstoppers stretches and flattens time, yanks it around and makes it yelp, *relativity*-style.

Clockstoppers isn't an ambitious movie, by any means. It harkens back to all those 70s live-action teen adventure movies with Kurt Russel, movies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or The Strongest Man in the World. That is, the nice-guy teen hero discovers a gimmick, whether it's invisibility or strong-making cereal, and then laffs abound as he plays around with it for 90 minutes or so.

In Clockstoppers, the gimmick is a watch that can stop time by "accelerating your molecular structure" so that you enter "hypertime". Not exactly scientifically rigorous, but it's a basic, cool, solid idea, and Clockstoppers has some pretty good fun with it. Maybe not as much fun as it could have, since when you're monkeying around with time you're monkeying around with the lynchpin of reality, but still... there's no shortage of time-stopped sprinklers and hovering bees and fancy bike tricks where papers go scattering and then hang in midair as time-boy zips out of frame.

Of course, the biggest issue for this movie to overcome is how to defuse the seemingly inexorable equation of time-stopping watch = instantaneous sleazy trip to the girls' locker room. And Clockstoppers does overcome it, in the simplest, charmingest way, which is that the hero discovers the gadget for the first time while he's hanging out with his would-be girlfriend, so rather than making the icky choice, the whole thing turns into just the coolest time-frozen first date ever. Nice.

This is the kind of movie where the idea is the star, so there aren't really too many recognizable faces. Our hero in this case is named Zack, played by some dude named Jesse Bradford, though he might as well be Kirk Cameron II.  His pretty-cute girlfriend is an unknown named Paula Garces, but hey, she's pretty cute. Michael Beihn (Corporal Hicks from Aliens) is in there as the obligatory evil government guy trying to get the watch back, and French Stewart (short, weird-voiced guy from Third Rock from the Sun) plays Dopler, the scientist who first came up with the idea.

And the director is Jonathan Frakes, Riker from Star Trek: the Next Generation. Aside from being Riker, Frakes also directed a few of the better episodes of the series, so he's got some talent. Unfortunately, he squandered most of his ability with the crappy Star Trek: First Contact movie (with the Borg), and then he chopped up most of the rest of it, mixed it with sheep's brains and fed it to cows with the super-crappy Star Trek: Insurrection. Luckily, he seems to have re-found a little of his footing on Clockstoppers. It's got a jaunty, fun tone, with some nice family-friendly touches like the fact that the evil government guys use liquid nitrogen sprays instead of guns (to slow down the molecular acceleration, y'see). Not Oscar material, but good, competent filmmaking.

Admittedly, I was looking for some full-on time-frozen mayhem, and this movie isn't that. But it's a pretty slick 90 minutes, and besides --*it's about freezing time, and that's awesome*!