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Time Runner

1993, Starring Mark Hamill, Rae Dawn Chong, Brion James, Mark Baur, Gordon Tipple, John Maclaren, John Thomas. Directed by Michael Mazo (Excalibur Pictures).

Unable to find many roles after his turn  as Luke Skywalker in the seminal space opera trilogy Star Wars, Mark Hamill drifted on and off TV for years until he landed a prominent role in Guyver, a low budget sci-fi programmer that banked on his galaxy saving marquee name  to entice reluctant video store patrons into a rental. This led to a short-lived boom of straight-to-video genre films with Hamill prominently featured on the box, two of which were made in Canada--Laserhawk and Time Runner.

Unlike what can only be called a glorified cameo in Laserhawk, Hamill sticks around for the entire course of Time Runner, a sometimes passable little time travel epic from director Michael Mazo that makes good use of a tiny budget. In the film it's the year 2022, and Hamill is Michael Raynor, a soldier who flees in an escape pod just as his space station is destroyed by invading aliens. While a team of technicians back on Earth works to decrypt a launch code sequence for a series of forgotten Soviet missiles in a last ditch effort to save the planet, Raynor is suddenly sucked into a nearby wormhole, and transported back to 1992.

Although initially unsure of what to do, the bewildered Raynor experiences several visions from his new, immediate future that he believes he must follow. As he comes to grips with his situation, he is discovered by army investigator Karen Donaldson (Rae Dawn Chong), who has arrived in the area along with dozens of other military personnel to study his ship. He soon realizes that Karen is actually an alien herself, assigned to Earth as part of a scouting mission, but is actually against her people's planned human conquest. Led by his visions, Raynor commandeers a biplane--and its laidback, but eager to help pilot Arnie (Gordon Tipple)--to visit upstart politician Senator John Neila (Brion James), 2022's world president. Because Neila later cut funding to the space defence system, Raynor plans to convince him of the future events, but even he does not realize how deep into society the aliens have already infiltrated.

Starting with some reasonably decent special effects of Raynor's escape pod blasting away from the space station and a post-apocalyptic city bombarded by lasers and enemy ships, Time Runner may initially look far better than most Canadian science fiction films, but don't be fooled--underneath passable performances by Hamill and Chong, and the occasional burst of suspense, lurks a messy  and hackneyed script credited to  no less than five writers. While the premise of a time travelling hero sent back to stop an invasion before it's too late is a sound one, the script is underdeveloped and often just lazy. Unable to figure out a convincing way for Raynor to move from one plot  point  to the next, the writers rely on the dubious crutch of his "mystical visions" to send him on a series of chases after any number of MacGuffins--first to some local businesses around the crash site, then off to talk to Senator Neila, and finally to save his pregnant mother, who is being tracked down by would-be assassins who want to prevent Raynor from ever being born.

The non-stop chases may work in and of themselves to give the film just enough excitement, but they ultimately leave the viewer with more  questions than the script is prepared to answer, specifically, who is guiding Raynor's destiny? No reason is ever given for his journey to the past, nor for his visions, but given that he clearly has a purpose in returning to 1992, one can only assume that there's supposed to be some higher power at work on his behalf--beyond a team of  careless writers chasing a paycheque, that is.

That would fit in with the overall theme of the film, which really isn't very Canadian at all, as it's a thinly veiled screed against social spending. The implication is that Senator Neila (read his last name backwards for an idea about how clever the writing is here) and his welfare programs have unwittingly sabotaged the planet's future, and that an investment in military hardware would have saved us all along. Of course, it's not set in the Great White North  either, as Vancouver once again stands in for Washington state, perhaps because no one would believe that Canada has the military resources or world influence to fend off an intergalactic attack.

Still, one Canadian aspect did manage to slip past  Time Runner's writing team--the character of Arnie, who ranks up there as one of Canuxploitation cinema's most memorable hosers. Whether perusing Playboy magazines, sleeping in broken down cars or straightening out his mullet, CanTV mainstay Gordon Tipple's portrayal of Arnie may only have been meant as comic relief, but is almost embarrassingly Canadiana well-meaning, blue collar shlub, who is game to assist in preserving  Earth's possible future, but doesn't have the faculties to do a whole lot, and is mostly just surprised when he manages to offer even basic help to Raynor. The relationship between these two characters is, perhaps, not unlike Canada's own position relative to the U.S.'s military might.

Not surprisingly, in the end, it's the character of Arnie that really makes Time Runner a passable watch. Frankly it's just nice to know that even during the impending alien apocalypse, we'll be able to crack open a stubby and keep an eye on the situation during Hockey Night in Canada's commercial breaks.

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