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Review: 12:01 (1993)

Time loopiness

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

By

Helen Slater as Dr. Lisa Fredericks and Jonathan Silverman as Barry Thomas in

Helen Slater as Dr. Lisa Fredericks and Jonathan Silverman as Barry Thomas in "12:01."

New Line Home Entertainment
We're stuck in a time loop and our only hope is .. Jonathan Silverman?

Details

  • Jonathan Silverman ... Barry Thomas
  • Helen Slater ... Lisa Fredericks
  • Nicolas Surovy ... Robert Denk
  • Robin Bartlett ... Anne Jackson
  • Jeremy Piven ... Howard Richter
  • Constance Marie ... Joan Zevo
  • Glenn Morshower ... Detective Cryers
  • Martin Landau ... Dr. Thadius Moxley
  • Paxton Whitehead ... Dr. Tiberius Scott
  • Cheryl Anderson ... Supervisor

Directed by Jack Sholder (The Hidden, Nightmare on Elm Street 2). Based on the short story "12:01 PM" by Richard Lupoff. Television story by Jonathan Heap (for his previous adaptation of this story, the 30-minute Academy Award-nominated short 12:01 PM (1990) with Kurtwood Smith, which aired on Showtime as part of shorts anthology). Teleplay by Philip Morton (Fire Down Below). Originally aired on the Fox Television network in July 1993. Released on DVD in November 2006.

Caught in a Bounce

Martin Landau as Dr. Thadius Moxley in "12:01."

Martin Landau as Dr. Thadius Moxley in "12:01."

New Line Home Entertainment

Barry Thomas's employer, the Utrel Corporation, is having trouble with its top-secret particle acceleration experiment. The government has ordered the project shut down out of safety concerns, leaving founder Thadius Moxley with a major setback and his hopes of finally achieving a major scientific breakthrough dashed.

Barry, a low-level screw-up in human resources, is only dimly aware of the project and its problems until he begins reliving the same day over and over. No one else realizes that they're caught in the very thing critics had warned would result from the Utrel experiment -- a "time bounce," a phenomenon which prevents the universe from stretching forward more than 24 hours before snapping back and resetting to where it had been at 12:01 that morning. But Barry had endured a massive electrical shock at the moment the time loop initiated, knocking him out of its repetitive cycle and making him alone aware of its effects.

Making matters worse is fact that the beautiful scientist at Utrel whom Barry has adored from afar is violently murdered at the end of the first repeating day, spurring Barry to try to prevent her death every time the cycle recurs. On each repeating day he is able to become closer to Dr. Fredericks, falling in love while they try to thwart whoever is using Utrel's experimental equipment and so unwittingly causing the time bounce, trapping humanity in an infinite prison of which they're not even aware.

Adapted out of All Recognition

12:01 started life as one of those science fiction stories that creates a sort of existential horror by creating a trap that then stays unresolved despite the heroes' best efforts to get things back to the way they're supposed to be. Lupoff's original story, 12:01 PM, which appeared in 1973 (and which Lupoff angrily asserted was stolen for the film Groundhog Day, released in 1993), and the 1990 short-format adaptation both found the protagonist unable to break free of the 59-minute time bounce, even by his own death; the original story ends with the hero trapped apparently for eternity.

But as with the better-known Bill Murray mugfest, 12:01 (1993) is a loose and comedic adaptation of the essential idea and, by stretching the loop to 24 hours (and adding a way out), gives the hero a chance for more involved adventures and hijinks. In this case, the hero is Jonathan Silverman (I know I'm supposed to put Weekend at Bernie's after his name, but do I really need to?), performing his patented wobble between blank-faced worry and sudden snarky put-downs. To lighten the tone he's surrounded by sitcom goofballs: a pre-Ellen Jeremy Piven plays his testosterone-driven sidekick; his critical, sexually frustrated boss is played by Robin Bartlett (later Paul's glib sister on Mad About You); and there are gags about guys with over-hairsprayed hair, goofy nerds getting coffee spilled on them over and over and the day repeats, and so on. The beautiful scientist-lady is played by future Supergirl Helen Slater, here oddly anemic and coming off in the end as a poor woman's Julie Hagerty.

Surprisingly Watchable

The big surprise for anyone who cringes at the very phrase "Jonathan Silverman movie" is that 12:01 is not at all unpleasant -- in fact, it's generally fun to watch, with hardly any wince-inducing moments of the sort that used to be associated with the antics of grating, so-called comics like Silverman and are now to be found in the works of grating, so-called comics like Dane Cook and Ryan Reynolds.

In any event this is certainly not Silverman's worst screen performance (that distinction is reserved for his wretched, film-ruining turn as an obnoxious gay caricature in Coffee Date). Tautly directed by Sholder, and with Piven on hand to be the wacky friend, Silverman turns in a measured and even mature performance -- enough so that it's possible to start thinking Slater, who's such a nonentity she seems to be having trouble at times registering on camera, needs to up her game to match Silverman's. The production values are very good for a mildly-budgeted video feature like this -- no distractions from underfunded effects or sets.

Other pros getting the job done include Landau, on the eve of his second career as Hollywood's go-to older man with a secret (Ed Wood came out the following year), giving a bit of heft to his blandly written character, and utility outfielder Nicolas Surovy as a suspicious-seeming fellow scientist. The balancing of comedy and drama partly justifies the DVD box copy that cheekily brings up Back to the Future, and while 12:01 is nowhere near that good, it's considerably better than most people will expect a TV movie starring Jonathan Silverman to be.

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