Big Awful Friday: 'Timerider' a bad sci-fi with great ending

By Ed Robertson, atomictown.comJune 14, 2012 

All right, the fanmail has gotten to be too much. I've had to hire assistants for my assistants.

I can't step outside my front door without being half-suffocated by a barrage of women's undergarments. So I'm finally bowing to pressure.

That's right, it's time for a revival of my very-occasional series on The Underappreciated Works of Fred Ward. To mark this splendid return, we're going to dig especially deep: 1982's Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann.

After dirtbiker Fred Ward rides into the middle of a futuristic corporate experiment, he's blasted back in time to the year 1877. Trapped in the Wild West, he falls for local Belinda Bauer -- and falls afoul of a gang of bandits obsessed with stealing his bike for their nefarious purposes.

I'm not entirely sure what those purposes may be. One of the outlaws claims that if the South had had that bike, they would have won the Civil War, but unless I missed the scene where the bike deployed its turbolaser, I think that's kind of dubious. I guess before the days of TV and Facebook, people had to play pretend to have any fun.

In any event, it's a good thing they do want that dirtbike so bad, because Timerider would have very little plot without the bad guys. Actually, I suppose it would have become a romantic comedy instead. And given that Ward takes nearly the entire movie before he understands he's traveled back in time, it would be an especially odd fish-out-of-water story.

I can't decide whether that element of Timerider is the silliest part about it or the most believable. If you were a future-person out in the desert, and then you wandered out of the desert into a town where everyone had revolvers, outhouses, and enormous old-timey mustaches, would you instantly assume you'd gone back in time? Or would you assume, as Ward does, that you'd simply wandered into Mexico?

Ultimately, it's an unanswerable and comically offensive question. And not really the main point of Timerider, which instead seems to be about delivering sci-fi adventure on as low a budget as humanly possible. Which would explain why Ward's in it. In the sense that he is undervalued, not that he is terrible. And also explains why the future looks exactly like the present, where the present is 1982.

On top of that, it's slow and pretty unimaginative. Yet for all its flaws, Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann might be redeemed by the ending, which somehow manages to be poignant, bittersweet and horribly disturbing all at once. Is that a good thing? I honestly don't know.

w Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com.

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