'James vs. His Future Self': Film Review

James vs. His Future Self - Publicity Still - H 2020
Gravitas Ventures
Likable but underwhelming sci-fi self-help.

A time-traveler tries to fix his youthful character defects in Jeremy LaLonde's comedy.

A scientist who sacrificed his personal life in order to invent time travel has second thoughts in James vs. His Future Self, a light rom-com that abandons some of the theoretical paradoxes often found in time-travel fantasies. Here, the sadder and wiser researcher (Daniel Stern) has no compunction about interacting with, and even upending the life of, his younger self (Jonas Chernick); if he disrupts the space-time continuum, at least he'll no longer have to face having alienated his loved ones. Amusing but off-key in some unhelpful ways, it's a dorky time-killer that doesn't suffer too much for its familiar vibe.

An actor in his mid-40s, Chernick (who co-wrote the screenplay), is pretty old to play a junior employee in an institute run by Frances Conroy's Dr. Crowley — or to have credible romantic chemistry with Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman, of TV's The Last Man on Earth), a co-worker who's not just much younger but much cooler. Nevertheless, Chernick's James is presented as a brilliant and obsessive young thinker on the cusp of figuring out the secret to time travel, if only he can get access to a particle collider with considerably more power than any built to date. Luckily for James, Dr. Crowley helped design the Large Hadron Collider, and she has secretly built a far more powerful version that fits within a desk-sized cabinet. (Did we just lose any audience members who actually know something about physics?)

One night, James is kidnapped by an older stranger who doesn't seem to have put much thought into how to deliver some shocking news: Stern's 60-year-old James (make that "Jimmy" to avoid confusion) is from the future.

The machine Jimmy invented can only send someone backward in time, not forward, and the journey isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially for a traveler with regrets about the past: It's "like being forced to watch reruns of a show you hate and you can't turn off." So Jimmy wants to prevent James from going down the monkish path that will lead to his breakthroughs. He forbids his younger self from taking the research job he'll be offered at the end of the week. He's prepared to use force if necessary.

James, predictably, thinks he can have it both ways, becoming an inventor without ignoring his friends and loved ones: "What if I can fundamentally change by Friday?" (Did we just lose any audience members who actually know something about human nature?)

The ensuing attempts to make James a people-oriented person are, unfortunately, most amusing when James is barely involved. While Chernick doesn't display the kind of charisma required to carry a feature, Stern has a fine time as dispenser of hard-won wisdom. When Jimmy barges in on James' floundering attempt to tell his buddy Courtney he cares for her romantically, Stern and Coleman are the actors worth watching; similarly, when the older man threatens to get James in trouble with his boss, it's mainly an occasion for Conroy to deliver a cutting zinger.

Playing with Jimmy's dual role as both an ally and antagonist, the screenplay keeps its action lively while doing the bare minimum to convince us there's a spark worth nurturing between James and Courtney. Rom-com beats are so perfunctory the movie even self-consciously points one or two of them out, and some badly dated pop ballads laid over tender moments don't help.

Production companies: Walker Entertainment, Banana Moon Sky Films, Jobro
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures (Available Friday on digital)
Cast: Jonas Chernick, Daniel Stern, Cleopatra Coleman, Frances Conroy, Tommie-Amber Pirie
Director-editor: Jeremy LaLonde
Screenwriters: Jeremy LaLonde, Jonas Chernick
Producers: Jonathan Bronfman, Jonas Chernick, Jordan Walker
Director of photography: Scott McClellan
Production designer: Michelle Lannon
Costume designer: Ginger Martini
Composers: Stephen Krecklo, Ian LeFeuvre
Casting directors: Marin Hope, Heidi Levitt

94 minutes