“Predestination” is a clever, quotable twist on that age-old sci-fi trope, “time travel.” This Spiereg Brothers adaptation of a Robert A. Heinlein story touches on love, death and morality as it ventures back and forth with a time traveling Ethan Hawke.
It spins out of the phrase “Never do yesterday what should be done tomorrow,” and begins — in one of the film’s fictive “present days” — with a barfly promising to relate “the most incredible story you ever heard.”
Hawke is the bartender who wants to hear it. But we know he’s being cagey, that he’s not a real bartender. He’s some sort of time traveling secret agent, out to foil the 1970s “Fizzle Bomber” and jumping back and forth through the 1940s to 1963, the 1970s 1985 and 1992, in that effort.
Does he suspect the storyteller? You bet. Do he or the barfly fret over the morality of terrorism, or summarily executing a terrorist before that terrorist acts? Not really.
“Some people just gotta go!”
The story is the movie’s long, set-up, a tale of a bullied childhood told by one who was bullied, a romantic rendezvous that may or may not happen, a single mother exploited by science and the debris, scattered through time, of every wound, ordeal and heartbreak that a single life has to endure.
Hawke and the amazing Sarah Snook (star of the horror picture “Jessabelle”) zip back and forth on the timeline, relating or avoiding each other (or earlier versions of themselves), unraveling a complex plot that suggests “some things are inevitable” and “luck is the residue of design.”
Will “The Bartender” find his prey and prevent a tragedy? Will he be able to pull the trigger, one last time? Will “The Unmarried Mother” improve her lot or change her destiny?
The Spierigs, Michael and Peter, are the Australian siblings who cooked up “Daybreakers,” a surprisingly sophisticated vampire sci-fi tale that was a minor hit for Hawke a few years back. Here, they ladle on the atmosphere — lovely period-perfect cloths, furniture, cars, etc., and let their two leads — along with Noah Taylor, as The Bartender’s time-travel-spy-agency boss — sell this premise.
And they pretty much do. Hawke is never less than reliably real and Snook is a revelation, convincing in a variety of guises.
We’ve seen far more variations of this story than most of us can recall, from “Timecop” and “Source Code” to “Deja Vu.” And the Spierigs work perhaps a little too hard at the “don’t give the audience hints” thing to make “Predestination” as much fun as it could be.
But it takes talent, in front of and behind the camera, to create something engrossing and new in the timeworn time-travel odyssey. Whatever its shortcomings, “Predestination” is never at a loss for surprises.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
Credits: Written and directed by The Spiereg Brothers, based on a Robert Heinlein story. A Stage 6/Sony release.
Running time: 1:37