Directed by: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Written by: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (screenplay), Robert A. Heinlein (story)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
Zombies are so last year. Time travel is Hollywood’s newest favoritist thing and 2014 sure saw a glut of them ride the zeitgeist: Time Lapse, Edge Of Tomorrow, even Interstellar. At the close of the year arrives Predestination, covering both bases by being an adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies”. Spoiler! There are no actual zombies in Predestination, unless you count the barely-twitching plot but we’ll get to that in good time.
Ethan Hawke is the preeminent operative of the Temporal Bureau – timecops, gottit? The TB is actively hunting the Fizzle Bomber, a time-hopping terrorist who has killed thousands in a series of attacks spanning decades. Thus we find Hawke working undercover as a bartender in 1970 New York City. But this is five years before the bomber’s most devastating attack which Hawke has been charged with thwarting. Evidently, some long game is at play here. A stranger pulls up a stool at his counter and they begin to chat.
When J.J. Abrams finally brings Stephen King’s Kennedy assassination/time-travel mashup novel 11/22/63 to the small screen in the near future, some viewers may find the front-half a bit of a slog. A wrinkle in the time-shifting device there means that 11/22/63‘s protagonist must endure a similar five year preamble before he can enact his history-altering plan. King’s obvious affection for the late ’50s setting and the charming minutiae of its depiction is what makes the wait an engaging read. Predestination tries to pull off a similar trick – a time-travel thriller which has neither thrills nor time-travel for the entire first-half of its run time.
It actually is fifty minutes of Hawke and his customer shooting the shit in the bar, punctuated by flashbacks to the fifties and sixties to accompany a fantastical tale the customer shares with Hawke. That’s Predestination‘s second major misstep: to lay out the entire back-story of a main character in one helping would be ill-conceived in most movie genres; to do so by such a completely mundane linear method is particularly egregious in a time-travel movie.
The first major misstep occurs in the preceding action opener, wherein Predestination inexplicably chooses to foreshadow its ultimate big twist with one revelatory shot. Thereafter, the next fifty-minute character info-dump has no mystery to tease; Predestination has already made itself predictable. Not content with gently tapping its self-destruct button, it pounds mercilessly on it twice more; during the bar scene, two exchanges clumsily sign-post where it’s going with its causality/paradox conceit. If you don’t twig the entire thing by the hour mark, have yourself strapped to a gurney and forced to loop-endure Somewhere in Time for the next twenty-three years. Watch-Die-Repeat.
Once the second-half kicked it, I hoped at least for some redeeming action and maybe just one crummy plot rug-pull to knock the smugness out of me; it is the hunt for a mad-bomber after all. Give me a ticking timer cliché, JCVD to come round-housing in at the 11th hour, anything! It was not to be. The plot strands simply mesh to confirm what I had already preempted an hour earlier. If you find it jaw-dropping and unexpected, I suggest you check out Shattered (1991); you’ll eat that shit up, and you’re welcome. By definition, a plot twist requires a prelaid plot to twist. In the end, Predestination simply pulls the sheet fully off the secret it thought it was expertly teasing throughout, reveals that it’s all twist and no trousers, yells “Tah-dah!” and shamelessly passes the hat round for you to show your ‘preciation.
Writer-director duo The Spierig Brothers thrilled in 2010 with the wonderfully inventive and endlessly stylish Daybreakers, a welcome inversion of the usual vampire conventions. On that success and on viewing the trailer, I prejudged that this follow-up would be a smart, stylish and original addition to the time-bending field. Ethan Hawke is in the midst of his own McConaissance – a ‘Hawke-second-wind?’ but here he’s a barely-registering bundle of broodiness. It’s left to his Australian newbie co-star to carry the day and their (don’t IMDB Predestination if you want to go in fresh!) committed performance alone carries what emotion the movie offers.
I’m giving this one-and-a-half stars. If you think I’m being harsh, feel free to tell me to go fuck myself. You always have a choice. UPDATE: After much reflection, I spun the dials and came back from the future and docked it another star for squandering winning best adapted screenplay at the 2015 Oscars. Oh boy! — Mike Reilly