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Mega Time Squad
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by Jay Seaver

"A gang of one (times five)."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: If "The Man Who Folded Himself" had been about a small-time crook who wasn't particularly bright, it might have wound up something like this freewheeling, half-nonsensical comedy that wastes practically no time jumping into some ridiculous time-travel shenanigans and then shows the good sense to stay in its lane, piling dumb-crook silliness up as far as it can go and then getting out before things collapse.

The crook involved is John (Anton Tennet), who's got vague ambitions of having his own gang someday but who does collections for Shelton (Jonny Brugh), what passes for a crime kingpin in Thames, New Zealand. A Chinese gang is moving in, making drops at Wah Lee's antique store, and while Shelton plans to make a move, John and his stoner buddy Gaz (Arlo Gibson) plan to make their own, robbing the place. Stealing from the triads and double-crossing Shelton probably isn't the smartest move, but John's lucky: Shelton's newly-arrived sister Kelly (Hetty Gaskell-Hahn) seems to fancy him, and the trinket he swiped from Wah Lee's on impulse is actually a magic bracelet that allows the person wearing it to travel back in time (though there is the little matter of a demon associated with it).

In many movies, you might see the first instance of time travel catch someone flat-footed, or instantly making some sort of pop-culture reference to explain it (a genuine worry, since John has already been seen pumping himself up in the mirror with a Taxi Driver poster in the background), but writer/director Tim van Dammen doesn't really have time for that. He wastes no time making a triple knot out of its timeline and then, fun predestination paradox out of the way, treating causality with far less respect if there's a laugh to be had. Even then, you have to admire the casual, entertaining balance van Dammen strikes between being meticulous and chaotic, with anything going but playing out in reasonably fair fashion should one pay attention.

And there is a bunch of gags; the filmmakers take a caper plot that is basically nothing and use it as something to hang any ridiculous joke about two gangs of dummies they can, cleaning up the mess they made kind of ruthlessly but getting back to laughs without much trouble. There's big slapstick and the mounting frustration of someone who has half a brain cell more than the people around him trying to herd those cats, while other characters serve their purpose with dry, deadpan wit.

Maybe most importantly, the central performance (multiplied times five) is one of the more affable ones of its type. Anton Tennet plays John as a guy who doesn't really think much and isn't that great at it, but who can project the right sort of low-wattage good nature. He's a goof who serves as a worthy protagonist in large part because it's easy to buy him and Hetty Gaskell-Hahn's Kelly liking each other right away; Kelly is probably the smartest person in the movie and Gaskell-Hahn gives her the sort of clear perspective and sly wit that allows the filmmakers to keep things moving in the right direction even when it would be easy to go to some sort of extreme. Jonny Brugh does the puffed-up but not actually impressive gangster well, while even the nameless goons have clear, funny personalities.

It's also put together in slick, professional fashion for its tiny budget. A lot of bigger movies don't do doppelgangers this well, and while doing so in a budget means keeping the camera still not just during those scenes but in most of the rest (so as not to make the effects scenes less active), it still feels energetic throughout. Van Dammen is great at using space and locations throughout, giving the place a lived-in feel that also makes scenes with action play out with clarity. He teams with editor Luke Haigh to give the film a laid-back pace without it ever not moving forward, and between them and Tennet, they put together some genuinely funny stitched-together banter.

"Mega Time Squad" doesn't outgrow what folks working on a bit of a shoestring can do, and it's arguably their embrace of that sort of limitation that makes it work: It's small without being stressed, and gets big smiles and laughs by piling all the things it does right on top of each other.

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originally posted: 07/19/18 01:08:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Tim van Dammen

Written by
  Tim van Dammen

  Anton Tennet
  Hetty Gaskell-Hahn
  Jonny Brugh
  Arlo Gibson
  Milo Cawthorne

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