Ask anyone who’s ever time-traveled, and they’ll all tell you the same thing—never, under any circumstance, ever do anything that could mess up the space-time continuum. And that goes double when it comes to interacting with yourself from the future. Or the past. Or… whenever. All that goes right out the window in writer-director Jeremy Lalonde’s so-so sci-fi/rom-com James vs. His Future Self.
Named Best Canadian Feature Film at last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the film does have its bright points, not the least of which is Daniel Stern (where has he been all these years?) playing the older version of James, a 30-something scientist standing on the precipice of discovering time travel. When James the Elder (who masquerades as Uncle Jimmy to James’ friends) shows up to convince his younger self (Jonas Chernick, also co-writer) to stop what he’s doing because of the dystopia he winds up creating, we can all nod in agreement that Lalonde might be onto something here.
It’s especially true given the fact that James is, at the same time, grappling with his whatever-it-is relationship with his physicist colleague Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman). All it will take to turn around the destiny of mankind, says Jimmy, is telling the woman how he really feels. Once that happens, Jimmy will vanish (a la Marty McFly from the photograph), and the world can continue on its merry way. But first, James has to accept the fact that Jimmy is who he says he is—a challenge that proves surprisingly easy, due to a cursory penis comparison (tell-tale identical freckles and a pronounced curve to the left).
The serviceable script offers a unique, genre-bending look at nerd love in the time of scientific conundrums and is bolstered by some solid comedy, particularly on Stern’s part. What it lacks, though, is the sense of immediacy and desperation that one would expect in a film about holding the very fate of humanity in your grasp—much less a flick that comes with a gonzo title like James vs. His Future Self. What had the potential to be a goofball cult hit similar to 1984’s Buckaroo Banzai… or something with some teeth, like Rian Johnson’s Looper, instead seems simply content to amble along to its predictable finish, never really amounting to anything more than a so-so effort that squanders its rather original premise.
Still, there’s more good than bad at play here. Plenty of fun moments keep the film’s head (barely) above water, including an awkward, third-wheel dinner between Jimmy, James, and Courtney early in the film and a sincere sweetness that propels the rom-com side of things (particularly thanks to a winning performance by Coleman). James vs. His Future Self may not have much of a shelf life and will, I imagine, be met with a collective nod and an “eh, pretty good”, but pretty good isn’t terrible, after all, and until someone from the future really does come back and shows us how things really wind up, we can just sit back and enjoy a good idea presented as a fairly decent movie.