If Napolean Dynamite joined a ramshackle New Zealand crew of wannabe gangsters who stumble upon a bag of Chinese Triad cash and a time-travel bracelet, his story my might play out something like Mega Time Squad, a messy hoot of silly logic and buffoonish antics that can’t help but charm despite occasionally getting in its own way. Instead of the convoluted premise or the special effects trickery being the draw, it’s the child-like enthusiasm for badassery combined with that endearingly humble Kiwi penchant for polite self deprecation that provides the real entertainment in this stupidly funny sci-fi romp.
If that initial description didn’t grab you, this may not be your cup of tea; nevertheless, here goes: John (Anton Tennet) is a low-level thug, a bumbling doofus who is happily oblivious running errands for a local crime boss named Shelton (a scene-stealing Jonathon Brugh). After being convinced by Shelton’s bomb-making sister, Shayna, that he has bigger “nuts” than a mere lap dog, John decides to rip off his employer during a cash drop. Being an absolute moron, he of course manages to completely muck things up. However, after pressing the jade green button on a mysterious bracelet acquired at a Chinese antique shop, John discovers that he can go back in time — not only to avoid current danger, but also to correct the past. Well, sort of.
The trick (and the schtick) is that using the bracelet doesn’t actually rewind time, but simply transports the current John backwards. That means that he can interact with any number of past selves, all of whom can also use their bracelets to do the same thing, allowing for the possibility of multiples versions of John all on screen at the same time, teaming up to be idiots together. The rules of this time travel mechanic are never comfortably explained beyond the vague understanding of the dopey protagonist, so either you spend your time trying to unravel a twisted loop of logic that lets the past be changed while leaving future Johns unaffected, or you throw your hands up in the air and roll with it. Mega Time Squad isn’t trying to be a thinker — Primer this is not.
Instead, it’s the chirpy naivete that makes this so watchable. These cut-rate thieves are so self-obsessed that they seem baffled that anyone besides themselves could possibly have their own motivations (even the various Johns are confused by each other!), and the befuddlement never gets old. From the surprise when someone fights back or stands up for themselves in any way, to betrayals of loyalty, these people don’t have a clue. Even the money seems to be of little actual consequence; they are dogs chasing a car — would they even know what to do once they catch it? Anton Tennet manages to maintain the sense of a true man-child, his blank stares masking the slow processing going on behind those eyes; it’s a look that’s common to many of the others, but he wins in the battle of the blockheads.
The real standout, however, is Jonathon Brugh’s Shelton, an endlessly cheerful narcissist who thinks suicide vests are cool (“just like the ones the terrorists use!”), and matter-of-factly acknowledges in front of his goons that he has to kill traitors so that the rest of them stay in line. Brugh (What We Do in the Shadows) plays Shelton with the kind of boundless energy and optimism — even when under attack — that reminds of Rhys Darby’s (Murray on Flight of the Conchords) upbeat inflections and demeanor. He’s a spoiled brat lording it over his poorer, ungrateful friends — perfectly happy to crack jokes and chum around when he wants to be pals, unable to comprehend why any of these louts would disobey.
To accompany the winning performances, writer/director Tim van Dammen has sprinkled in loads of small, goofy touches that make for several chuckle-worthy moments. Obsessions with meat pies, casual demon myths, schoolyard dating tactics, a flashback to a kickass Chinese warrior, the way everyone’s mum will be disappointed, slingshots — childhood fantasies of an adult world. There are also more references to New Zealand culture than most Americans will understand (including yours truly), but the peek into their society and idioms is just another part of the likability.
That’s not to say that Mega Time Squad doesn’t occasionally get bogged down. The filmmakers are clearly more comfortable with the absurd, as any attempt at a ‘real’ moment usually falls flat, be it corny pep talks about self esteem, or a half-hearted romance that feels tacked on for no good reason; these moments are momentum killers. The end also takes a few too many liberties with its time-travel premise, forsaking coherence for Keystone Kops-like staging. The effects are skillfully done, but extended sequences showing them off dissipate the comic vibe considerably.
That aside, Mega Time Squad has just the right amount of feel-good weirdness to attract a cult following. Surely there will be those who try to suss out exactly how the puzzle works, but they’re missing the point; put these people in any scenario, and their unassuming stupidity is likely to be just as entertaining — the ridiculous sci-fi is just icing on the cake.
Directed by Tim van Dammen
Written by Tim van Dammen
Starring Jonathon Brugh, Anton Tennet, Morgan Albrecht
Music by Mike Newport
Cinematography by Tim Flower
Film Editing by Luke Haigh
Country: New Zealand