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Time After Time

"The Jacket" and the repetitions of the time-travel flick.

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There's an awful lot to digest in the frenzied first 15 minutes of exposition. While tramping the icy byways of Vermont in 1992, a Gulf War veteran played by Adrien Brody ("The Pianist") falls in with a psychopath who promptly commits a murder and pins it on our hero. Brody's character suffers from amnesia as a result of a head wound he got in the desert and thus is hopelessly unable to defend himself at trial. Declared insane, he is remanded to a mental hospital that makes the snake pit in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" look like a model of enlightened nurturing.

With his mournfully soulful eyes and a handsome face that nevertheless looks somehow misassembled, Brody seems destined to endure suffering far exceeding his due. He comes under the thumb of a renegade psychiatrist (Kris Kristofferson) who pumps his patients full of banned psychotropic drugs, then slides them into lockers designed for the storage of cadavers, all in an effort, he claims, to "peel away some layers of hate" from his victims' minds. (The titular jacket is the full-body restraining suit into which goons stuff their hapless prey.) It's in the body locker that Brody is inexplicably propelled into the future (2007, to be precise), where he learns that his hospitalized 1992 self has only a few days to live.

In an interesting twist, Brody's character never tries very hard to stave off his own death. He placidly accepts that, whereas Kris Kristofferson roams free, it's his lot to be sacrificed. What he really wants is to correct the life of the downtrodden young woman (Keira Knightley), whom he meets and promptly falls for in his trips to the future. He's aided in his efforts by Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only honorable, caring psychiatrist in Vermont, it would appear.

Stories like this have fueled some adventurous films of recent years, like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004) and "Memento" (2000). In its early sequences, "The Jacket" seems to be headed into the same edgy, if sometimes fussily pretentious, territory. But by the time Brody and Knightley are necking, we find ourselves on much more well-trodden ground. As the outlandishness of the story mounts, questions about the meaning of identity give way to cuddles and hairbreadth escapes. In this case, that is all to the good, since "The Jacket" is best when it abandons all the psychological folderol and settles into the tried-and-true business of saving the girl and exposing the guilty.

That being said, "The Jacket" never manages to shake off all of its oddness, especially when it comes to Maybury's willfully bizarre directorial choices. Again and again, the screen is filled with extreme close-ups of mouths, pens and eyeballs. If you've ever wanted to get a really good look at Adrien Brody's iris or Kris Kristofferson's incisors, this is the movie for you. Having chucked the conventions of space and time, Maybury and his writers don't always feel obliged to stick to cinematic logic or common sense, either. The results are sometimes unintentionally comic. In what is supposed to be a heroic move, for example, Jennifer Jason Leigh takes the absurd risk of administering electroshock therapy to a little boy on his living-room sofa, after fortifying herself with a cocktail, no less. If the laws of physics can be defied, who cares about the stodgy protocols of the American Medical Association? *** S

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