The paradoxical nature of time travel makes the concept an impossible feat in life, but the basis for some of the most entertaining movies. Like “Somewhere in Time,” the old Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour movie that used to get a lot of replay on television in the 1980s, “The Time Traveler's Wife” has been mauled by critics as sentimental absurdity, but it's a perfectly enjoyable romantic fantasy that manages to be engaging on both levels.
Its story concerns Henry (Eric Bana), who can't control that he vanishes out of the present for spells, leaving his clothes behind, arriving naked at another random place and time. He must scramble for shelter before fading out again and reappearing in the present. Sometimes he arrives at the sprawling estate of Clare, a young girl playing picnic who comes to know and eventually fall in love with her strange visitor.
Henry and Clare meet for the first time as adults when Clare (Rachel McAdams) finds Henry at work in a library, where she must explain who she is in an example of the sometimes confusingly intricate crosscurrents of time and experience at play in the story. Of course they fall in love and of course their love is thwarted by Henry's time traveling, especially when they learn by accident that Henry will die someday during one of those episodes.
The movie is based on the popular book by Audrey Niffenegger, adapted into something reminiscent of an older era, with more satisfying pacing and character development than the usual best-seller movie adaptations, which tend to feel hasty, ending up reverential and emotionally inert.
Some critics have expressed distaste for the scenes in which Henry appears to woo the young Clare, but such thoughts are more ridiculous than any of the sometimes difficult-to-digest logic involved in Henry's time traveling. The only minor problem with “The Time Traveler's Wife” is the diagnosis of Henry's condition. Turns out (rather early) it's a genetic disease, whose evaluation and attention takes precious movie minutes away from the romance, arguably the slightly weaker half of this otherwise competent and entertaining love story. (PG-13) 108 min. HHHII S