Everything you’ve probably heard about “A Sound of Thunder” is true: it is being dumped into theaters with terrible buzz, it feels like a dozen movies sliced into one lumpy hodgepodge, it has the cheesiest special effects this side of Tor Johnson sleepwalking through a cardboard graveyard, and it presents the always dismal Edward Burns as an action hero.
But here is one thing you probably won’t hear elsewhere: “A Sound of Thunder” is a guilty pleasure diversion. Yeah, it is dumber than a bag of hair. But it is also fast, occasionally funny and genuinely entertaining in an old-fashion no-brainer manner.
Based loosely on a 1952 Ray Bradbury short story, “A Sound of Thunder” takes place in Chicago in 2055. Five decades from now, the Windy City will look like the skyline of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” while the men dress like the gamblers of “Guys and Dolls” and people drive in cars that resemble disposable cameras on wheels. The millionaires’ fad of that future day is something called Time Safari, which allows people to go back 65 million years for a dinosaur hunt.
There is one rule of time travel: do not bring anything back from the past. Alas, one silly rich man accidentally steps on a prehistoric butterfly and brings the squashed bug back on the bottom of his boot. This unfortunate misstep alters the face of the world. Somehow or other, the butterfly’s death created a different evolutionary process than the one we enjoyed, thus turning Chicago of 2055 into a prehistoric jungle complete with man-eating plants, giant mutant bats, humongous eels and predatory beasts that are half-tyrannosaur and half-baboon.
“A Sound of Thunder” actually doesn’t have any thunder, unless you count the blustery performance by Ben Kingsley as the corrupt entrepreneur who operates Time Safari. Wearing a cotton white toupee and speaking in an accent which doesn’t belong to any know region of the world, Kingsley seems to have acquired Michael Caine Disease: accept all roles, no matter how stupid. And this is a damn stupid role, running the emotional gamut from desperation to world-weary sarcasm to bully boy bribery. Yet the one-time Gandhi throws himself into his work with eye-rolling gusto, to the point that he seems to be acting for his own amusement rather to offer a coherent character for the film’s development. By slicing the ham so thick, he comes a show within a show and he is often too funny to endure.
Beyond the Kingsley tomfoolery, “A Sound of Thunder” grabs aspects from so many different films that it often seems like a tribute to movie classics rather than a work unto itself. The film plays like “Jurassic Park” meets “The Time Machine” meets “The Butterfly Effect” meets “Alien” meets “The Brothers McMullen” – though that last film comes to the mix through the presence of Edward Burns, who is cast as the brilliant scientist designated to go back and forth in time to save the world. Burns may not be anyone’s idea of a great mind, and his three shirtless sequences suggest he is more comfortable showing off his abs than his brains. But he does offer the stoicism which one associates with the square-jawed heroes of 1950s B-level sci-fi: they look good on camera, they can’t act for s**t, and they’re not bothered in being upstaged by inane monsters. Who could’ve guessed Edward Burns was the 21st century successor to John Agar?
Speaking of monsters: you’ve not lived until you’ve seen the baboon-tyrannosaurs. These are the silliest things to come along in ages, but they are so dumb they actually become endearing – not unlike a first grader’s painting, they lack grace and skill but have a clumsy charm of their own.
Is this a great movie? Oh, God, not at all. But it’s a great dumb movie – the kind which helps to pass a rainy afternoon or a muggy night. Take it with a grain of salt and a bowl of popcorn.