When I was a kid, the local UHF channels in Chicago would change their programming schedules every summer so as to fill the hours with old sitcoms that would keep the kids glued to the set. “The Monkees” was always a part of the summer rotation, and it was one I always looked forward to. I always found Mike to be one of the funniest of the guys in the band. He seemed to be the leader and just why he always wore that knit hat was one of the great mysteries of life as far as I was concerned. When the group got back together at various times in the 80’s and 90’s, Mike Nesmith was usually the one who sat the reunions out. He was busy with other projects, among them…producing films. Today’s film is one that Nesmith not only produced, but also wrote the script and music for…plus had a small cameo in. It’s a time travel story that doesn’t need a DeLorean since a motorcycle does just fine…1982’s “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann.”
The film focuses on a guy named (big surprise here) Lyle Swann (Fred Ward), a well-known motorcycle racer. He is currently competing in the Baja 1000, a race across wide-open desert terrain. He’s got all sorts of fancy gadgets built into his bike and helmet to help guide him on this cross-country race, but somehow he gets off course. Now, it just so happens that a team of scientists are working nearby on a time travel experiment. They’re planning on sending a monkey back in time, but Lyle rides his bike right through their test area at the wrong time and before you can say “Who’s Marty McFly?” he’s zapped back to 1875.
Now, Swann has no idea what has happened to him. He keeps on riding into the night completely unaware that he’s traveled through time. The next morning, he stops to clean up at a small pond, where he’s is spotted, unknown to him, by the lovely Claire (Belinda Bauer), who has been bathing. He also runs across an outlaw, Porter Reese (Peter Coyote), and his two partners (Richard Masur and Tracey Walter). When Reese spots Swann in his bright red racing duds and helmet, he, of course, starts shooting. But when they spot the “machine” he rides off on, Reese decides he must have it for himself.
Swann then ends up in the village of San Marcos, which is where Claire lives. She and the local priest (Ed Lauter) help hide him from Reese and his men, but they are also suspicious of this strange visitor. Well, for a few seconds anyway. Once the coast is clear, it doesn’t take Claire long to pull a gun on Swann and order him to take his clothes off. After the two have made love, she asks Swann about the unique medallion he wears around his neck. He then tells a story about how it was his great great grandfather’s. His great great grandmother took it from him as they saw each other for the last time and it was passed down…blah blah blah. See where this is going folks? Ever heard the song “I’m my Own Grandpa?”
The next morning, one of Reese’s men manages to sneak into town and steal the motorcycle…and nab Claire in the process. This leads Swann to team up with some marshals, who are looking for Reese, to get back the bike and the girl and catch the bad guys.
I’ve always liked time travel stories. I think part of what makes them fun is the situations that arise when you have someone taken out of their time, thrown back into a world that is completely foreign to them. Think the “Back to the Future” films or “Star Trek IV.” But in this film, Lyle Swann never knows that he’s back in the 1800’s. As far as he’s concerned, these folks just like to play cowboy. So there really isn’t much opportunity for the traditional fish-out-of-water scenario that we see in many time travel films to really play out to full effect.
It also doesn’t help that most of the characters are pretty flat. There’s no real depth to the character of Lyle Swann, and that he never figures out what’s happened to him just makes the viewer think he could benefit from a lightning bolt to his mental flux capacitor. There’s also no chance for romance to develop between Lyle and Claire…I mean she points a gun at him and orders him to sleep with her. So romantic. And with the exception of a funny bit where Reese tries to figure out how to ride the motorcycle, there really aren’t any laughs to be had either.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann” is that it’s pretty short on that whole “adventure” part. The premise is still kind of fun, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe taking part in those Monkees reunions wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.