Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982) — Dirt bikin’ into the cowboy era

“If General Lee had had that machine, we’d have won the war.”

Justin’s rating: 88 kilometers per hour!

Justin’s review: And here I thought I had seen pretty much every one of the crazy and ludicrous time travel movies from the 1980s, but no, I guess there was still one more out there. And it actually comes before Marty McFly, Bill and Ted, and Max the Navigator. For a largely unknown movie to me, 1982’s Timerider ended up being a wildly funny romp across the old west.

Dirt biker Lyle Swann (Fred Ward) — he of the long subtitle — is out shredding some Mexican desert to some incredible synth rock when he accidentally rides right through a time travel experiment that’s only supposed to be sending a monkey back a hundred or so years. Without realizing it, Lyle becomes the world’s first time traveler, zipping right back to 1877, where he’s initially ignorant that he’s even in a different era.

And if you love yourself some ’80s gear tech, you’re going to love Timerider’s fixation with Lyle’s dirt bike and his totally radical outfit (which includes a computerized HUD in the helmet). It’s pretty hilarious how everyone in the old west reacts to his bright orange outfit, including an ancient geezer who up and dies with fright when this futuristic rider bursts onto the scene.

Lyle quickly falls afoul of a group of incompetent outlaws as well as a bathing beauty, and before you know it, there goes the time continuum. He’s creating paradoxes left and right while zipping around on a seemingly endless tank of gas. Everyone in the region instantly wants Lyle’s incredible machine — and all Lyle wants is to get home.

In the present, the scientists work to retrieve this guy they accidentally stranded in the past, but it’s not going to be as simple as flinging him a rope through a rip through space and time.

So yeah, the concept here is “What would it look like if you took a modern dirt biker into the western frontier where everyone’d be totally wigged out because of it?” which is one of those ideas that really only could come out of this decade. It’s silly, but it’s also kind of awesome.

It’s got the same fish-out-of-water tone that Back to the Future Part III did with the same western setting, although the big difference is having a hero who doesn’t understand for most of the film that he’s actually gone back in to the past. For all Lyle knows, he got lost in the desert and stumbled onto a cultish town where everyone is a bit more backwoods and trigger-happy. So he blithely shows off future tech like infrared cameras, glow sticks, and energy bars and — oh yeah — sleeps with his ancestor. Because if you’re going to travel back in time, you might as well cause a paradox!

The simplicity of watching an ’80s guy cause unintended havoc in the 1870s while everyone freaks out and gun battles are going off and western tropes are pulled out left and right is wildly entertaining. Not deep, mind you, but entertaining. Timerider invites you to saddle up and go on the ride of your life — and your great-great-grandparents’ life.

Didja notice?

  • 16 experiments, and they’re only now sending monkeys through time?
  • Sure, why not send a monkey back to 1862. It’s going to change the outcome of the Civil War!
  • Great opening theme that gets you pumped up… for DIRT BIKE RACING!
  • Sure, why not do huge science experiments outside in an uncontrolled environment
  • The cowboys picking over their friend’s remains is pretty funny stuff
  • Guy’s nose blown clean off
  • Claire is very proud of her three books
  • The cowboy riding the dirt bike — and the shootout that results — is hilarious

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