It may just be coincidence but it feels like I’m witnessing the creation of a new cinema movement: the British toilet-based sci-fi/ horror genre. After yesterday’s “Stalled”, “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel”, is a compact, lightweight and deceptively clever comedy which deals with the problems caused by time leaks in a pub’s toilets.
It tells the story of two sci-fi geeks: Toby (Marc Wootton) and Ray (Chris O’Dowd) who go to the pub with their decidedly non geeky (‘aren’t “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” basically the same thing?’) mate Pete (Dean Lennox Kelly) to commiserate after Ray is fired from his dead-end job at a rundown amusement park. When he has a strange encounter with a woman called Cassie (Anna Faris) who claims to be from the future, Ray believes his friends have set him up. But when Pete experiences time travel himself after a trip to the gents toilets, the three friends embark on the weirdest night out they’ve ever had.
Like “Stalled”, this film uses a limited number of locations to maximum effect and despite the casual humour and general lightness of tone, makes an effort to keep the science of timelines and time loops clear and correct. A co-production between BBC Films and HBO, “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel” is much closer to the former’s sensibilities and there are echoes of “Doctor Who”, “Red Dwarf” and even “Sapphire & Steel” woven through the fabric of the movie and the implicit toilet humour is deeply British too. We stay close to our heroes throughout the movie and are only privy to the events from their perspectives. While there are clearly larger forces at work here, we catch only glimpses of disastrous futures and a much broader and conflicted community of time travellers and editors but the intimate focus helps the film make the most of its limited resources.
The film makes the most of leading man Chris O’Dowd’s natural charisma and easy-going charm as Ray and it helps enormously that Marc Wootton’s performance is far more restrained than normal, far from the frenetic and grating Mr Poppy of the “Nativity!” films. Dean Lennox Kelly manages to make his initially gruff character likeable and sympathetic, especially as he bears the brunt of the unpleasant effects of the time leaks plaguing the pub. Anna Faris brings a splash of glamour and ditziness as the time travelling love interest and Meredith MacNeill rounds out the cast as Millie, a sinister time travelling ‘Editor’.
A pleasant, carefully construction Gordian knot of criss-crossing timelines, it also finds time to give a shout out to 1980’s “Flash Gordon”, teasing further adventures for Ray and Cassie. There’s also a great bonus scene after the credits suggesting that the lads’ night is far from over.