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‘Needle in a Timestack’ review: Time-travel romance is a better idea in theory

It could have been so much more.

Needle in a Timestack is a time travel story in the vein of, “If only I could go back and do things differently!” In this case, it visits an emotion in which most people have wished they had the power to change things: love. Janine (Cynthia Erivo) and Nick (Leslie Odom Jr.) are deeply in love. Everything is going fine until Janine’s ex-husband Tommy (Orlando Bloom) decides to tear them apart. 

As with most stories of romance, this one asks the audience to be ready to believe that love is the most powerful force in the world. Needle in a Timestack also wants everyone to know that it can still be put in danger. In the movie’s world, time travel is a normal thing. Nothing is truly permanent and there is an impermanence to life that does not seem to bother anyone. 

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This is one of the stranger aspects of Needle in a Timestack. Time travel and love are no strangers to each other in fiction, but the plot does not seem to be concerned with the former. There is a lot of fun material that could be mined. Initially, that seems to be the direction things are headed in. The first part of the film explains how being able to change time works and how it is used. But the main focus is always the relationship between Janine and Nick.

Needle in a Timestack seems to want to be more than a melodramatic science fiction story. There is a neat subplot that questions who the villain really is. This is furthered by the jealous actions of one of the characters who even threatens to go back and prevent a wedding. This also adds to the coldness of the world. It is too easy to go back and commit horrible acts to fulfill desires. 

Unfortunately, the idea never quite pans out. Even worse, the far more interesting question of what is and is not real is briefly touched on, but never given its full due. Needle in a Timestack is an unashamed story about fighting for your true love. There are some interesting developments along the way, but it always feels like something is missing.

Needle in a Timestack is in theaters, digital, and on demand October 15

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