A Sound of Thunder

It’s hard to get excited about a movie when even the people IN the movie don’t seem very interested. Such is the case with “A Sound of Thunder,” a trivial sci-fi thriller in which Edward Burns can barely muster an excited yell even when he is leaping from a skyscraper.

The movie, made in 2002 by Peter Hyams (“The Musketeer,” “End of Days”) and delayed until now because of problems both financial and creative, does not suck as bad as do most movies that are delayed for three years. Its basic story is neat-o, being based on a piece by Ray Bradbury, who knows his sci-fi. But the characters are all ciphers and nobodies, and even the ones in the leading roles shuffle through their scenes mechanically. It’s as if they knew the film might never be released and were saving their energy for more fruitful endeavors.

The year is 2055 and the place is Chicago. A company called Time Safari, run by a campy, insane billionaire (Ben Kingsley), sends paying customers back to the time of dinosaurs, one of which they are allowed to shoot and kill. Time Safari is anxious to avoid disrupting the flow of history, however, and the allosaur being hunted (it’s the same one each time) was chosen because it was about to be killed by a volcanic eruption anyway. So you send rich thrill-seekers back, let them kill a doomed dino, take their money, and everybody’s happy.

The customers don’t go alone, of course. The head of the time-traveling team is Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), and it’s up to him to fire the first shot at the allosaur (which he always does at precisely the same time). There’s a doctor on hand to monitor the rigors of time-travel and a girl named Jenny (Jemima Rooper) who videotapes everything and who is something like a god-daughter to Travis, in the remnants of a subplot that was lost in the editing. (There’s another one involving a hot woman who shows up in Travis’ apartment — and is never seen again.)

Much is made of the fact that altering the course of history even slightly could be catastrophic, and so wouldn’t you know it, on one of the hunting excursions someone does something slight, and yep, there are catastrophes. Back home in 2055, species of flora and fauna sprout overnight, including a vicious simian reptile best described as a monkeysaurus, which now roams the parks of Chicago and is more deadly than the gangs that normally live there.

Travis enlists the aid of Dr. Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack), who created the time-traveling software and is appalled at the uses to which Time Safari has put it. They need to go back and undo whatever went wrong on the failed expedition or else it will be the end of life as we know it!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now, some of those exclamation points were sarcastic (the 2nd, 5th and 8-11th ones, specifically), but I do love me some time-travel sci-fi shenanigans. The premise here is perfectly reasonable; I just wish they hadn’t killed it with plot tangents and boring characters. The screenplay (by “Sahara’s” Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer and former porn-flick writer Gregory Poirier) has numerous obstacles pop up to slow Sonia and Travis in their quest to go back in time and fix the future, mostly in the form of dangerous new animal species like the aforementioned monkeysauruses. The problem? Despite a reported budget of something like $80 million, all the special effects look ridiculously fake. Even a simple scene of Travis and Jenny walking down a futuristic city street is quite obviously the actors walking in place in front of a green screen. It’s literally laughable (as in, I literally laughed at it).

Some enthusiasm would have helped, but could not have saved, this troubled production. However, even in its comatose state, it still has that nifty story and those sci-fi twists. It’s the kind of bad movie that’s so inoffensive and harmless that it almost seems unfair to point out how bad it is.

P.S. The title “A Sound of Thunder” is never explained or alluded to.

C (1 hr., 43 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, some unconvincing violence.)