April 10, 2019

MEGA TIME SQUAD: How to Make a Cult Film

Starring Anton Tennet, Jonny Brugh, Arlo Gibson, Hetty Gaskell-Hahn, Milo Cawthorne, Yoson An, Mohi Critchley. Directed by Tim van Dammen. (2018/86 min).

Review by Tiger the Terrible😹

One of the tricks in making a good cult film is trying not to look like you’re making a cult film, which is easier said than done. Too much of a conscious effort to be hip, quirky or self-aware reeks of desperation, like a dorky dad trying to relate to his teenage kid by using modern slang. New Zealand’s Mega Time Squad definitely has cult aspirations, and fortunately, writer/directer Tim van Dammen doesn't seem to be actively seeking-out the fringe crowd. Maybe he knows if you have an idea worth doing unconventionally, that crowd will seek you out.

Conceptually, Mega Time Squad is already pretty clever without the oddball accouterments. John (Anton Tennet) is a dimwitted petty crook who works for Shelton (Jonny Brugh), a self-aggrandizing gangster who has other rubes do all his dirty work. After John is ordered to steal a cache of money from the Chinese mob, his buddy Gaz (Arlo Gibson) convinces him they should keep it for themselves. While snatching the cash from an antique store, John also takes an ancient bracelet which lets the wearer travel back in time a few minutes.

Gaz doublecrosses John and leads him right to Shelton and his thugs. John manages to escape and activate the bracelet before they can kill him. He’s suddenly in the immediate past and saves himself yet again. Now there are two Johns. Both of them learn of the bracelet’s dark past, which does indeed allow the user to make as many copies of themselves as they want, but also summons a ravenous demon that will devour them all. That doesn’t stop him from creating a lot more Johns, who form their own gang and dub themselves the Mega Time Squad. Together, they decide to steal the money back and return it to the Chinese. Meanwhile, one of the Johns – we’re never certain which – has fallen in love with Shelton’s sister, Kelly (Hetty Gaskell-Hahn).

"When I told you to duck, that's not what I meant."
Aside from an amusing flashback of the bracelet’s origins, the demon doesn’t actually figure much in the story. In fact, it’s largely forgotten after awhile, which creates a plot discrepancy by the end. But aside from that, the film ingeniously plays around with the logistics of time travel in a way I’ve never seen before. Better still, it’s mostly done for laughs. Mega Time Squad is consistently funny, with great dialogue, silly slapstick and a marvelously deadpan performance by Tennet. Unlike other cult films that seem a bit too eager to please, this one doesn’t beat its premise to death or turn annoyingly self-congratulatory.

The overall tone is like a sci-fi version of Napoleon Dynamite, augmented by a few bursts of gory violence and an aesthetic that (intentionally?) recalls straight-to-video sci-fi thrillers from the 1980s. Whether or not it actually becomes a cult classic, Mega Time Squad is certainly worthy. There are a few plot holes here and there, but none big or deep enough to matter. Well worth checking out for those looking for something different.

AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Writer/Director Tim van Dammen

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