A couple of lines and gestures give away the game in “Madelines,” a horror comedy with a time travel twist.
There’s a campiness to one of the performances, a goof or two that gives away how seriously they’re going to take the “science” in this science fiction. They’re conquering time travel with, I guess, a little lighting, a couple of bell jars and a pretty danged good laptop or two.
“Stupid USB port!!”
And there’s what they call their effort — “Doc Brown Experiment” — and how they label their failures.
“It’s more ‘Time Cop’ than ‘Back to the Future!”
What everybody on this lean little picture was going for was a slasher version of “Safety Not Guaranteed,” gory goof on the Spanish thriller “Time Crimes” or a no-budget, jokey “Prime” where everybody’s in on the gag.
It doesn’t come off, but the idea has merit.
A couple, Madeline (Brea Grant of “12 Hour Shift” and “Dexter”) and Parry Shen (“Better Luck Tomorrow” and “General Hospital”), are working this problem together, somewhere in suburbia.
They have a semi-rich backer (veteran character player Richard Riehle) and a willingness to pay strict attention to “The Rules” –running experiments, then trying to replicate the results when they finally get an orange to disappear and re-appear under their different bell jars.
It’s not “teleportation” they’re after, like “The Fly.” It’s moving that orange forward through time. The next logical thing is to try a mouse. That makes something of a mess.
So what Madeline does next, after recrunching the code over a few glasses of wine, is avoid splattering another mouse. She’ll take a trip herself via their time travel helmet. And that’s how another miscalculation turns her success, waking up outside after her trip, into a disaster.
She made a time “loop” which will bring back another Madeline, in their back yard, every day — “3600 of them” if her (always flawed) calculations are correct. Richard stumbles into the first surplus Madeline and accidentally kills her. And that becomes their solution.
They will meet each Madeline, and with methods increasingly bizarre in an effort to be “humane,” dispatch her. They’ll have to read up on “effective” and “painless” executions. And they’ll have a LOT of bodies to dispose of. If, that is, the Madelines aren’t somehow getting “smarter” and more cunning.
By the way, that last wrinkle makes zero sense.
Grant plays this straight, even if her reactions are such under-reactions as to make one wonder if Madeline appreciates the shock of the new and the horror of the horrific. Shen starts out broadly mugging, but Richard slips into resignation over what they’re having to do.
The jokes are about basic time-travel “rules,” such as “The Novikov Principle,” which even sci-fi comedies embrace even if you know they’ll violate, repeatedly, in search of laughs.
But once you get past “they made a time travel horror comedy with just a few locations and three actors (no matter how many “Madelines” we see), “Madelines” drifts into a bigger and bigger letdown.
Forget the logical lapses and the many ways Grant tries to differentiate the many Madelines. It just doesn’t play — not as funny, not as horrific and funny.
Nice try, though.
Rating: Unrated, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Brea Grant, Parry Shen and Richard Riehle.
Credits: Directed by Jason Richard Miller, scripted by Brea Grant and Jason Richard Miller. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:20