Listen, and understand. That Outposter is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you… have read another Retro Review. Wrenage will be back. In fact, he is back!
This time he’s talking about a little-known movie that features the recently departed Fred Ward.
I have only one use for a multiverse, and it has nothing to do with superheroes. Maybe said multiverse could contain a world where Fred Ward made a series of hard-boiled detective movies set in 1940s LA — movies full of femme fatales, car chases, gunfights, fisticuffs and mysteries.
The fact we never got such a thing is a travesty. Fred Ward was born to play a wisecracking tough guy in a fedora (see Cast A Deadly Spell). On the other hand, we did get a movie where Fred Ward plays a dirt-bike racer who travels back in time to the Old West. I guess that’s something…
Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann came out in 1982, a fabled year when Hollywood pumped out so much quality that people were forced to conclude that The Thing sucked because they had no more bandwidth to process awesomeness. Filmgoers were drunk on Blade Runner, The Wrath of Khan, Conan, Poltergeist, E.T., and more…so very many more.
Timerider probably owes its existence to Michael Nesmith, who was a member of The Monkees. Apparently, being in one of the most successful bands of the 1960s and selling 75 million records wasn’t enough. Nesmith wanted to branch out into movies. He co-wrote Timerider and formed the production company that made it, plus composed the soundtrack. Nesmith didn’t stop there. He went on to create the cult classic Repo Man, starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton.
Timerider was directed and co-written by William Dear. Dear started out in the film industry with a sexploitation film (Nymph) before crossing paths with Nesmith. His peak period was 1982-1991 when he directed Timerider, Harry and the Hendersons, and If Looks Could Kill, starring Richard Greico. I still remember Dennis Miller cracking a joke about that film.
“If looks could kill…get Greico a mirror!”
Cast Back Into The Past
Previously, Ward was in supporting roles to guys like Clint Eastwood (Escape From Alcatraz) and Keith Carradine, and Powers Boothe (Southern Comfort). In Timerider, he got to be the man. He’s not in tough-guy mode, however. He’s in fish-out-of-water mode, with maybe a touch of swashbuckling. Essentially, Ward is displaying the traits that landed him the Remo Williams gig.
Ward’s love interest is played by the lovely Aussie actress Belinda Bauer, whose other big-screen credits are Flashdance (what a feeling!) and Robocop 2 (stop-motion robots with gatling guns for arms warm my cold dead heart more than brandy served by Nicholas Sparks). Bauer retired from the Hollywood scene in the 1990s and now works as a psychologist.
If I ever met her, I would tell her this psychologist joke: how many narcissists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One, to hold the bulb while the world revolves around them!
Peter Coyote plays the main villain in Timerider. This might be a bit of miscasting. Coyote is more of a bureaucratic villain than a physical villain. Wearing a soul patch on his chin doesn’t help. It’s like he’s trying to come in third in an Apolo Ohno-lookalike contest.
Did you know Peter Coyote was once named Peter Cohon and changed his name to Coyote after ingesting peyote and encountering a spirit animal?
Do people ever encounter lame spirit animals? Like is there a chance that if things had gone differently, we’d have a guy named Peter Aardvark playing the villain in Timerider?
A smattering of familiar character actors form the rest of the cast: Tracey Walter (sidekick/henchman supreme), L.Q. Jones (not only was he in The Wild Bunch, but he was also in Lone Wolf McQuade), Richard Masur (he must have gone from The Thing to this), Chris Mulkey (he must have gone from First Blood to this), Macon MacCalman (Smokey and the Bandit) and Ed Lauter (King Kong ‘76).
Passing The Timerider
How does Timerider work as a movie? It passes the time. No major spoilers will be given, but there isn’t much to spoil. The movie follows the standard time-travel formula: guy goes back in time and needs to return to his own time. He meets people. Challenges happen. The end.
Timerider is extremely straightforward in this regard. No twists or turns exist. As a matter of fact, the story is so straightforward that Ward’s character doesn’t realize he traveled back in time. That’s a neat way to approach the subject matter. It prevents Star Trek mumbo-jumbo and a lot of handwringing about changing the future by altering the past, etc.
For such a breezy film, Timerider is a slow starter. It spends its first 15 minutes with first-person POV motorcycle riding and showing off Ward’s cool helmet. This is forgivable to a point. Showing off tech was a thing at that time, but no payoff exists for the helmet tech. Blue Thunder showed off the helicopter tech and used it in the story. Maybe Ward should have used his helmet to calculate a jump or something at the climax of the film. But, no, his helmet is basically just there to make the viewer wonder if they used flexible steel grease gun tubing to dress it up.
At the end of the day, Timerider is a simple B-movie with a $1 million budget (by way of comparison, The Thing had a $15 million budget). It gets by almost completely on charm. Everyone is having fun. The idea is neat. Ward looks cool in his red jumpsuit. Cowboys chase a motorcycle and shoot guns at it. The movie lights up a TV nicely, but you won’t be putting it in your top 100.
Timerider is about as crack-a-beer-movie as one can get. Nevertheless, it warranted a reference on South Park that mocks its time-travel rules. South Park calls them silly. What is silly about them? I’m not sure. I don’t get caught up in the weeds when it comes to time-travel rules, but it has something to do with The Grandfather Paradox. If you go back in time and kill your grandfather, you can never be born. Timerider has a different sort of riff on that, which Futurama also touched upon.
Rate Of Timerider
Rating Timerider requires thought. It doesn’t make the most of its concept. Also, for whatever reason, Hollywood started to lose the ability to lens convincing westerns in the 1980s. I can’t put my finger on it, but westerns started looking chintzy in the 1980s if they weren’t A-list — maybe because they started throwing away all of the old props from the 1950s or something.
Nevertheless, Timerider has a distinct 80s feel to it when movie after movie contained a palatable sense of wonder and adventure. The 1970s probably had the best films, but the 1980s were a crazy time when movies kept raising the bar of fun and entertainment every year. That feeling began to wane a bit as the decade drew to a close, but it came back with a vengeance when Terminator 2 was released. The feeling ended for good with Independence Day, methinks. At that point, there was no place for blockbusters to go but bigger, rather than better.
The principle reminds me of something Quint said in the novelization of Jaws. The Orca could cover a certain amount of miles per day with its chum slick. If they stayed out a month, they could probably cover the whole ocean, but what was the point? So it is with movies — the spectacle has gotten so big that it has lost impact and become an exercise in excess.
To its credit, Timerider probably hit harder in 1982 than now. Prior to Timerider, the main time travel movies that come to mind are The Time Machine, Time After Time, and Somewhere in Time. All of them had a Victorian slant. Timerider was on the cusp of the wave of more contemporary time travel movies (along with The Final Countdown). It predated Terminator, Back to the Future, and Star Trek IV.
At the end of the day, Timerider is a movie of pros and cons. For every fun thing it does, it does something clunky. For example, the guitar rock soundtrack doesn’t quite fit. No point exists to any of the scenes focusing on Ward’s crew. Finally, no one has much of anything to do beyond chasing the motorcycle. Regardless, I’ll still ride bitch with Timerider.