10th Aug2018

Fantasia 2018: ‘Mega Time Squad’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Morgan Albrecht, Linda Allen, Yoson An, Jaya Beach-Robertson, Jonny Brugh, Milo Cawthorne, Charles Chan, Mohi Critchley, Hetty Gaskall-Haan, Arlo Gibson, Mick Innes, Ash Jones, Stephanie Liebert, Mathew Loo, Frankie Mac, Josh McKenzie, Sam Morgan, Lewis Roscoe, Axl Scott, Tian Tan, Barney Teng, Anton Tennet, Paul Trimmer, Simon Ward, Matt Weavers, William Wei, Eruera Wilton, Han Xu | Written and Directed by Tim Van Dammen

Mega-Time-Squad-poster-2

In a recent interview, writer/director Tim Van Dammen described Mega Time Squad as “an absurd time travel crime comedy with a big heart about a loveable rural idiot with modest aspirations who uses a time travel bracelet to steal the money needed to fulfill his dream of moving to the neighbouring town… but he fucks up the time travelling bit.”

I go one further and describe Mega Time Squad as one of the greatest time travel movies ever committed to celluloid. Yes, I said it and I certainly stand by it.

Taking its cue from the well-regarded Time Crimes (with nods to the overly complex nature of time travel a la Primer), which saw its protagonist discover multiple versions of himself caused by time travel, Mega Time Squad tells the story of Johnny (Anton Tennet) a low-level drug dealer in Thames, New Zealand, he lives in his mother’s garage, his time is spent with a blundering friend Gaz (Arlo Gibson) at the local bowling alley and doing petty errands for the local kingpin Shelton (Johnny Brugh) and his henchmen (including Milo Cawthrone). When a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a big score reveals itself, Johnny finds himself wondering, “Do I have what it takes to pull off a caper?” He quickly realizes no, he doesn’t. That is, not until he stumbles upon an ancient relic that allows him to travel across time. With the power to bend time in Johnny’s hands, a hodgepodge of hilarity ensues and the “bogans” (Kiwi for loser) sets his sights once again on the wealth just beyond his grasp. However, what are the consequences of this temporal insanity, and does Johnny have what it takes to face off against Shelton and his henchmen?

I’m not going to lie, I’m a huge fan cinema from down under, be it Australia or, as in this case, New Zealand. There’s just something so appealing – to me at least – about how films from that part of the world mix humour and horror to such tremendous effect. Though in the case of Mega Time Squad there’s less horror than you might be expecting, especially given that the film is playing genre across the globe. Instead we get a film that feels very much like a companion piece to the likes of Turbo Kid, in so much that it too blends genre tropes to create its own thing, its own world. There’s clearly an influence from the likes of Peter Jackson at work here too, with Tim Van Dammen’s film having that same ridiculous, some might say over the top, humour that marked Bad Taste out as such a unique piece of genre cinema.

And Mega Time Squad is just as unique… Some might say “cult” but the film deserves much more respect than that label connotes.

Led by Anton Tennet as Johnny, Mega Time Squad‘s cast somehow make the sheer ridiculousness of the films story, and the complications that come with it, work. They also provide the film with the characterisations, and more importantly heart, on which this almost-slapstick adventure tale sits. How Tennet managed to work with dozens of “himself” is beyond me, and its kudos to him that his character never changes, there’s never a “odd man out” among the various time-displaced version of Johnny. And whilst the convoluted mess of time travel would confuse many, here Johnny uses the conceit to create his own gang – filled with duplicates of himself, to become the crime boss he always wanted to be. Even if that criminal is, with ALL that help from himself, still just as inept as ever…  Speaking of criminals, Mega Time Squad army of “villains’ are anything but really… Instead they’re just as inept as Johnny, coming across as something akin to the Three Stooges of crime… Led by a crime boss who’s just as ridiculous – performed brilliantly by What We Do In The Shadows’ Jonny Brugh. Speaking of which, Mega Time Squad really does share that same combination of laughs, cultural references and 80s-esque vibes that make Taika Waititi’s film(s) so great!

With a plot that is NOT as simple as you would expect from such a ridiculously funny film (there’s a sub-plot about a time demon chasing those that use the relic for example), Mega Time Squad is a perfect combination of laughs, scares, action and romance – the kind of which those of use that grew up in the 80s will remember from classics such as Big Trouble in Little China, and of which we still reminisce about today. Making Dammen’s film both a throwback to a bygone cinematic era and the future of New Zealand genre cinema – something of a “time travel” for audience and film alike.

In the end this Mega Time Squad really is just that. Mega.

***** 5/5

Mega Time Squad screened at Fantasia 2018 on July 16th.

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