Review: The Time Traveler's Wife brings on the bare Bana butt

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Romance and science fiction don't seem to mix too well sometimes.

Maybe the last time that they did really well was in Ghost, a fine blend of humor, drama, romance and sexiness, with a guy caught in the world of death who is trying to warn his wife but can do so only through a psychic.

Maybe it's not surprising that The Time Traveler's Wife is written by the guy who won the Oscar for penning Ghost, Bruce Joel Rubin. He also wrote Jacob's Ladder, The Last Mimsy, Deep Impact and Stuart Little 2.

This is no Ghost, but it's a nice adaptation of the hit first-time novel by Audrey Niffenegger. It's also funny, dramatic, romantic and sexy, but it has a layer of schmaltz, too.

Director Robert Schwentke keeps insisting everywhere in interviews, and even in the press notes, that "this is not science fiction." Perhaps because of the utterly preposterous premise that these time-traveling trips are supposed to be some sort of genetic defect has no basis in science at all, he doesn't even attempt an explanation. It's a genetic defect that was initially triggered by stress, and the character fades in and out of time without any control, landing in the new time zone without a stitch of clothes on every time.

This may be just another excuse for getting Hulk and Star Trek movie star Eric Bana to show up naked in a lot of scenes (which he does, but mostly from the back side). As the lead character, Henry, he is plagued by this instantaneous time-traveling and then has to find clothes right away, no matter where he lands.

The film feels a bit like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, so it's not surprising that Brad Pitt (nominated for an Oscar for that acting role) is listed as one of the producers. It also has the feel of The Fountain, but it's not as dreadfully boring. And, it's not half as bad as that Sandra Bullock/Keanu Reeves mailbox time-travel clunker The Lake House.

The romance between Henry and Clare (played by Rachel McAdams, who will also be in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes film) starts when a 6-year-old Clare finds a naked Henry in a field in her backyard. If that's not strange enough, he then meets Clare as an adult, and she throws herself at him, and he hasn't a clue who she is. He apparently told her throughout her young life that they would be meeting in the future and getting married.

She even told Henry the name of a doctor that he would eventually seek out—a Dr. Kendrick, played by Stephen Tobolowsky, who was in Freaky Friday, Groundhog Day and Spaceballs.

Time traveling does get Henry into awkward moments. He zaps out of his wedding twice, once coming back with slightly graying temples just in time to exchange vows. He also is found by his friend Gomez (played by Ron Livingston) outside a bar in a pink girl's shirt and tight shorts, beating up a homophobe. George immediately thinks that Henry has a big secret to hide—little does he know how big it really is.

The schmaltzy stuff happens when distant thunder rumbles just when something bad is going to happen, and when fireworks light the skies when the climax is about to happen, and when songs like "Love Won't Tear Us Apart" play at the ultimate romantic moment. That seems like it's the fault of the director, not any over-the-top dialogue written in the script.

The time travel "rules" in science fiction are pretty well set to some sort of standards, and this movie generally doesn't break those rules. Fate can't be changed, and there's no problem with meeting yourself in the past or the future, but you have to buy in to the premise that this is genetic. That premise leads to fetuses that time-travel out of the womb when Henry and Clare try to have a baby, and allows many interactions between past and future selves.

Another over-the-top idea, however, is that the scientist, Dr. Kendrick, is supposedly making a name for himself by treating Henry for his condition, and that leads to training time travelers in controlling their disappearing act. Then there's the creepy idea that a little girl waits in a meadow behind her house for a naked man from the future to come up (she does leave him clothes), but the fantasies cause her a few fantastic diary entries.

OK, sometimes the movie gets really weird, but overall it's a very entertaining escapist sci-fi romance—and these days that's a rare event.