Timestalkers (1987) — Grover Cleveland to the rescue!

“If you are not going to play, I am going to gobble your face up.”

Justin’s rating: But did they bump into Doc and Marty?

Justin’s review: I’m sure most of us have seen those articles about old timey photographs that purport to show proof of time travelers. You know, people sporting anachronistic haircuts, clutching what looks like smart phones, or doing anything that seems out of time. Well, before it was a lazy article for an idea-bankrupt writer, it was the basis for a fairly creative TV movie called Timestalkers.

Widowed history professor Scott McKenzie (William Devane, with a smile that looks like his dentures are trying to escape) picks up a trunk of memorabilia from the Old West — his favorite time period, as marked by the frilly coat he wears and gunslinging he does in his backyard — and spies a figure using a .357 Magnum in one of them. Scott’s suspicion of time malarkey is increased when he bumps into Georgia (the woman, not the state or country), a visitor from the year 2586 who’s on the hunt for a bad hombre named Cole (Klaus Kinski).

Cole’s a bit of a mad scientist — the future is rife with them, apparently — who’s trying to wipe out the family line of his direct competition by killing an ancestor back in 1886. It does seem like a big dose of overkill to go back that far for a petty grudge, but since we wouldn’t get a trip to the Old West otherwise, I’m going to let it slide.

Timestalkers was a TV movie, and this limitation does show in its bargain basement special effects and slower, must-pad-every-scene storytelling. Perhaps the oddest element to it is the constant use of flashbacks during the detective portion to show what Cole was up to in 1886. It’s not bad or anything, but a little unusual due to the fact that this happens as the protagonists and antagonist are separated in time.

It’s a really good idea that would’ve benefited from a motion picture budget, a more dynamic lead, and snappier editing. It’s hard not to be thinking about Back to the Future Part III in virtually every scene — and kind of wishing that you were watching that instead. Or even seeing an expansion upon the idea of time travelers chasing each other to different periods rather than, y’know, just two.

And not to be ageist or anything, but Devane is too old for the part. He comes across much less like a dad of a little boy (who got killed, but don’t worry because… time travel) and more like that kid’s grandpa. This notion isn’t helped when Devane’s character constantly repeats everything back that Georgia says, only as a question, like a luddite senior citizen having someone explain Nord VPN to him.

Yet I can’t bring myself to be too harsh on it. There are a lot of little things I took a shine to here, such as the incredibly ’80s synth score (think Flight of the Navigator), the dual use of sets for the past and present, and the fact that the plot eventually involves everyone’s second-favorite Grover, President Cleveland. I mean how many movies with Grover Cleveland have you seen lately? If you watch this, you can proudly answer, “One!”

Didja notice?

  • The amazing trippy opening credits with the chippy synth score
  • Always start a time travel movie by looking at a clock
  • Back when little kids could sit in the front seat of cars
  • Well those cars exploded fast
  • So is the knife having a flashback to the Old West? With Star Wars blaster sounds?
  • It’s Fresh Prince and TMNT’s James Avery as the blacksmith!
  • Time travel is very glowy
  • Rattlesnake got you cornered? Better blast it with your laser pistol!
  • Never trust anyone who says “I’m a flesh-and-blood human being”
  • His license plate is FSTDRAW. So… fist draw?
  • Scientists of the future are monitored and restrained
  • Cole’s hat is so dang big
  • Scott inexplicably ties his tie around his head for several scenes
  • Now we’re to the karaoke-and-bad-computer-graphics portion of the film
  • Never seen anyone try to stab someone with spurs before
  • Shooting a gun on a military base automatically triggers a very loud alarm
  • History professor doesn’t have a problem gunning down people in the past, apparently

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