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D: Paul Currie / 99m

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Michiel Huisman, Sam Reid, Maeve Dermody, Remy Hii, Simone Kessell, John Waters, Richard Davies, Kerry Armstrong

When a movie provides the viewer with an intriguing concept (and does so early on) it sets itself something of a problem: namely, how to maintain that sense of intrigue the longer the movie goes on, and the more that has to be explained. There are plenty of movies where that intriguing concept flounders soon after being introduced, and plenty more where it doesn’t go anywhere at all. And then there are the movies that keep that concept evolving and expanding, and in doing so, keep the viewer engaged and entertained throughout. But these movies aren’t as prevalent as we might like, and though it does its best to join that elusive and elite group, 2:22 has a basic flaw that stops it from gaining a place at the table: it never decides to settle for one cause out of three or four for the events that take place.

Dylan Branson (Huisman) is an air traffic controller living in New York. He has the ability to see patterns in all things, which makes it easy for him to make predictions out of what appear to be random variables. It also means that some of the flights under his control can sometimes take off and land within yards of each other, something that, frighteningly, his boss and his colleagues treat as more of a trick to be bet on than as an inappropriate way of dealing with hundreds of lives each time. But when a cosmic event – the shock waves from the collapse of a star in space from thirty years before – has an effect on the Earth, Dylan’s attention becomes focused on the patterns that are revealed through the waves, and he is lucky to avoid the deaths of around nine hundred people when this occurs. Rightly suspended, Dylan still goes about his daily routine, but soon begins to notice that the same things keep happening each day, and at the same times. However, it’s a fascination with Grand Central Station, and the time of 2:22pm, that he’s unable to shake.

As the patterns and repetitions become more and more ingrained, Dylan finds himself drawn into the story of three deaths that occurred thirty years before on the concourse at Grand Central. A love triangle that ended in tragedy, it saw a singer and her boyfriend, and a cop, all shot and killed. Dylan becomes obsessed with finding out why he’s seeing all this within the patterns, and why from so long ago. And when he meets Sarah (Palmer), an art gallery manager, he begins to realise that their relationship is in some way connected to the events of the past. What this all means is what Dylan feels compelled to work out, but at first it frightens Sarah, and she distances herself from him, but as their story begins to dovetail with the story from 1985, and too many coincidences occur to dispute what seems to be happening, Dylan tries to ensure that there isn’t a repeat of the concourse tragedy, and that he and Sarah can make it past 2:22pm.

There’s not exactly a glut of intelligent, well thought out science fiction movies available to audiences these days, and 2:22 clearly has ambitions to fulfill that particular requirement, but while it begins well – and with a couple of airport runway scenes that should have even the most blasé of frequent fliers gripping their upright tray tables – it’s not long before it gets bogged down in an unwieldy narrative, and it starts tripping over itself in its attempts to provide a coherent, viable framework for the mystery of thirty years ago and its relevance to what’s happening around Dylan today. At first, it’s clever, but then the movie tries to be too clever, and before long it has Dylan sounding like he’s in need of some serious medication. Sarah avoids him because he sounds crazy, the truth of the past reveals itself piece by piece, and it’s all done in such a way that makes it confusing as to whether or not it’s all in Dylan’s head, or the result of this strange cosmic event, or some kind of reincarnation version of history repeating itself. As to which one of those is the actual reason for Dylan’s visions of the past, the viewer is free to take a guess.

It may be that there is one true answer, but the screenplay by Todd Stein and Nathan Parker (from a story by Stein) is too respectful of its muddled internal logic to settle for a definitive solution. Instead it piles erratic images and mismatched scenes on top of one another, and as if it needs to add a sense of confusion to proceedings, when it does attempt to explain matters, it falls just shy of being convincing (which unfortunately leaves Michiel Huisman holding the exposition bag quite awkwardly a lot of the time). It’s obvious that the movie doesn’t want to come across as a sci-fi variation of Groundhog Day (1993), and so it throws too many extra elements into the mix, but without testing first to see if they match the level of intrigue required, and/or the details. Currie orchestrates matters with an eye for a compelling image at times, but on other occasions, there’s a pedestrian vibe to many of the scenes early on that aren’t exactly involving; thankfully, as the narrative speeds up, Currie’s confidence in his handling of the material increases also.

The well chosen cast do as well as can be expected with some of Stein and Parker’s more utilitarian dialogue, and overall Huisman and Palmer make for an interesting pairing, their characters not quite the star-crossed lovers they’re made out to be, but competently played nevertheless. By the end though, the sci-fi elements have been shoved aside so that the thriller elements can be pushed to the fore, and there’s a stretch where the familiarity of the narrative – or the obvious nature of it – casts a pall over proceedings as the screenplay manipulates the story into getting Dylan and Sarah, and her jealous ex-boyfriend, Jonas (Reid), to the station on time for the 2:22 deadline. Faced with these strong-arm tactics, the movie has no choice but to go along for the ride and hope that the drily philosophical dictum quoted at the end, “A star shines brightest right before it dies”, strikes the viewer as poignant instead of ironic.

Rating: 6/10 – narrative trips and tumbles aside, 2:22 is a modest sci-fi thriller with modest ambitions, but ones that should be applauded nevertheless; that it doesn’t work entirely is down to the lack of focus in the storyline, and some occasionally lazy “hey, kids, let’s connect the dots for the viewer” decision making, but though it’s very rough around the edges, you could do a lot worse, sci-fi wise, than to give this “out of its comfort zone” movie a chance.