The film, or radio play, depending on how you go about taking it in, starts in the heart of evil, i.e. France. Strangely, there are very few French people there, only a bunch of Scottish archaeologists. Their leader is Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly) who is cursed with an American son.
Worse, the son is "played" by Paul Walker, the animatronic robot who was notably upstaged by a car in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Whatever Gepetto made Walker clearly spent his entire budget on the dimply chin and blue eyes and forgot to add any charm, charisma, talent or, probably, a human soul.
Walker pouts around the dig because he's in love with an archaeologist who is out of his league because she's smart, pretty, 10 years older than him and human. She's also played by Frances O'Connor, who was no doubt happy to act opposite Walker, since he makes her look like Sarah Bernhardt's more talented daughter, when in fact she's just slightly better than bad.
Walker and O'Connor engage in dialogue that you couldn't make up on the worst dialogue-day of your life if you had an electronic bad dialogue machine that was stuck on "crappy." She, of course, cannot love him because he's the boss' son. We know this because she says "I can't É you're the boss' son." This means, of course, that they won't kiss until at least 45 minutes into the movie. Set your watches!
Meanwhile, in the desert southwest of the United States, where we normally think of goodness and freedom as dwelling, an evil scientist is doing evil things with science. The enormous and powerful International Technology Corporation (so-named because they incorporated for the purpose of making technological things in an international way) is sending people back in time in order to make a new, high-powered fax machine. Seriously. That's the central plot point of the movie: Evil scientists accidentally create time travel while working on a fax machine.
We know this because when the Scottish characters come over to see the machine, one of them says, "you accidentally created time travel!" He says this just in case we missed it when the American scientists said it, or when it was demonstrated visually, or when we bought a ticket for a movie about time travel, or when we were born with functioning cerebral cortices.
Of course, one of the archeologists gets trapped in the 15th century and the others have to dress up like Renaissance festival nerds to go save him. But! Wait! They only have six hours to save him and get back! This is a point made ad nauseam by everyone involved as they look at the tiny electronic clocks they must wear around their necks. "We only have two hours left!" "We only have 40 minutes!" "We only have two minutes!" and "We have to go now!" being examples of the deft dialogue used to convey this artificial and overused plot device.
I wonder what would happen if they didn't get back before the time was up? Luckily, one of the characters announces "Once the time is up, they could be stuck there forever!" Thanks. I was afraid I'd have to figure that out for myself from the 500 other references to it in the course of the film.
After the archeologists go back in time, there's lots of medieval sword-fighting and flaming turdballs catapulted over castle walls, and pretty ladies who would be in distress if this movie were made in the 1950s, but who are kicking ass and carrying swords since this movie was made in the more politically and less historically correct 21st century. Still, in spite of all the violence, things remain rather dull, and, for some reason, the bizarre narrative dialogue continues. It's like watching a lesson in English as a foreign language: "I just killed that man," says the lovely Frances O'Connor after plunging a sword in him. Now, repeat after me, "I just killed that man!" Very good!
There were some upsides to Timeline. For example, umm É well É the French are not only not portrayed as the most vile and evil cowards ever to refuse to take part in a capitalist adventure to suck oil out of an economically devastated Middle-Eastern nation ever to walk the earth; they're actually shown as heroes. Of course, when a movie that no doubt seeks a large audience in America contains the line "It's good! They're French! They're here to help!" you can't but wonder if the writer has been living on either Mars or Marseille for the past year.