When Hendersonville-based filmmaker Rich Christiano sent me a copy of the first feature film from himself and brother Dave, he said, "Remember our audience. We've made the jump from showing movies in churches to (booking) theaters, but keep in mind who we're trying to attract."
Fair enough. So who is "Time Changer" meant to reach?
Believers, of course. The central message -- that accepting Jesus Christ as your savior is the only way to avoid hell -- comes through as clearly as a steeple bell on a frosty morning, and it's aimed mostly at those whose faith has wavered. A few nonbelievers may rethink their attitudes when they see the joy the characters take in this creed, but skeptics aren't likely to enter the theater.
Yet what sort of believers? Not those on a complicated spiritual journey: The film draws a simple line between wise folks who seek eternal redemption and sinners who will suffer in eternal darkness. "Time Changer" makes positive actions irrelevant to salvation and almost detrimental to it, unless carried out in Jesus' name: As sympathetic seminary professor Norris Anderson remarks, Satan's great triumph is to encourage people to do good deeds without dedicating them to Christ.
The story begins as a debate in 1890 between Anderson (Gavin MacLeod, doing the best work I've seen from him), and fellow professor Russell Carlisle (D. David Morin, who took a while to grow on me). Carlisle thinks that teaching good morals, whether Christ is evoked or not, can eventually bring people to their savior. To show him the error of that belief and convince him to rewrite a book of philosophy, Anderson projects Carlisle into the year 2000 via a time machine.
There Carlisle is befuddled by automobiles and baffled by television, as always happens in time travel movies. More to the point, he's horrified by teenagers who have unsupervised drinking parties and films where the Lord's name is repeatedly taken in vain.
He'd probably attract most Christians' sympathies on those points. (Mine, too). Yet I wonder how many people will accept his premises that divorce is not only undesirable but wicked; that any scientific knowledge not verified by the Bible is false; that Christian religion should be taught in public schools, not just permissible as personal prayer; and that no other Abrahamic religions have merit. (By this reasoning, Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi will spend eternity in the lake of fire.)
Technically, the film can stand with most releases. The cast includes veterans Hal Linden, Paul Rodriguez and Jennifer O'Neill, all of whom do good work. She gives the requisite speech about finding Jesus -- it comes in the course of a chat but plays like a commercial -- and says the inevitable line, "Secular entertainment is one of the biggest tools Satan uses to mislead people."
I wish director Dave Christiano had taken more care with details. Why wouldn't Anderson give Carlisle more knowledge about the future before sending him there? Why didn't Carlisle recognize a telephone or terms used in baseball, both of which were common knowledge before 1890?
One more question: If God does not want us to know the future -- specifically the day of our death, which would easily be discovered -- would he let someone invent a time machine that made it possible to know? Just asking.
Conservative Christians will be reassured by this film about a time-traveling theologian.
STARS: D. David Morin, Gavin MacLeod, Jennifer O'Neill.
DIRECTOR: Dave Christiano.
LENGTH: 99 minutes.
RATING: PG (thematic elements).