Mega Time Squad

Two Johnnys? In this economy??

We in the Northern Hemisphere have this image of New Zealand as Australia’s sillier, goofier neighbor. “Mega Time Squad” does nothing to dispel that impression, being a manic, light-hearted comedy about a nice young criminal who uses time-travel paradoxes to create a gang of himself (himselves?).

The setting is the small town of Thames (pop. 7,200), and specifically within the criminal underworld of that town. Our hero is Johnny (Anton Tennet), a grinning Dave Franco type who’s a low-level goon for local crime boss Shelton (Jonny Brugh), who’s genuinely dangerous but hard to take seriously because he reminds you of Michael Scott. Johnny pulls a heist of rival Chinese gangsters and plans to keep the money for himself, but Shelton learns of the betrayal and comes after him.

Fortunately for Johnny, among the things he stole from the Chinese was an ancient bracelet that can send its wearer back in time (not long, just a few minutes). Johnny activates it while being chased by Shelton’s crew, creating a second Johnny who tells the first Johnny where to hide. The timeline resets itself as long as the Johnny who travels back in time follows the same course of action he followed before; when he deviates, the result is multiple Johnnys. I can’t say it all makes sense, even within the rules of time-travel fiction, but the result is three Johnnys working together to get the stolen money back and defeat Shelton.

Writer-director Tim van Dammen fills the movie with provincial dopes whose foibles we can laugh at without feeling bad about ourselves. These include Terry (Eru Wilton), a lieutenant of Shelton’s who’s always getting shot; and Jay (Simon Ward), an off-the-grid friend of Johnny’s who lives in a storage unit and explains time travel to him. The only moderately smart figure is Shelton’s sister, Kelly (Hetty Gaskell-Hahn), who’s on Johnny’s side and plays straight-man to everyone else’s buffoonery. Everyone behaves as if what they’re doing — stealing from the Chinese, ordering hits on one another, etc. — is just a game, even though it has real stakes. It’s a fun tone to take, perfect for a story that’s inherently goofy.

Onscreen, most of the work falls to Anton Tennet, who spends much of the film sharing scenes with no one but his clones. Van Dammen handles the technical side of this quite well — I expected the seams to show more in such a low-budget production — and Tennet’s playful, puppyish energy makes us root for Johnny, who never seemed cut out for a life of crime anyway.

The script is a little rough around the edges. The dialogue is fast-paced and loopy for a while but eventually settles into a routine that it can’t quite shake off. And while you can never really “explain” time travel in a movie, this one could have done a better job establishing how the rules work in this particular universe. But when it’s on, it’s very funny — absurd, childish, petty, seemingly dumb but actually clever. It makes you think New Zealand would be a charming place to visit, and that you’d probably be OK even if you ran afoul of local gangsters.

Crooked Marquee

B (1 hr., 22 min.; Not Rated, probably R for abundant harsh profanity, some strong violence.)