Needle in a Timestack

★½

Sometimes a movie comes along with an intriguing concept and a talented filmmaker/cast that simply doesn’t work. “Needle in a Timestack” (available in select theaters and on VOD beginning Friday, Oct. 15 and on Blu-ray and DVD beginning Tuesday, Oct. 19) is one such example.

Nick (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Janine (Cynthia Erivo) are a couple living in marital bliss in the none-too-distant future where time travel is a reality if you’ve got the means to afford it. Nick’s concerned that Janine’s ex-husband and his former best friend Tommy (Orlando Bloom) has the money and motive to implement this technology to trash their marriage. In spite of Nick’s worries not being unfounded, it might be his own jealousy that derails he and Janine’s relationship as opposed to Tommy’s meddling.

As is often the case with this time travel business, these moneyed jaunters can cause phasing. The alterations can bring the dead back to life, turn someone’s pet dog into a pet cat or modify couplings. One of these time shifts reunites Nick with his ex-girlfriend Alex (Freida Pinto) and brings Tommy and Janine back together.

“Needle in a Timestack” (what a sucky title, amirite?) is told as a triptych – one about Nick and Janine, another about Nick and Alex and another about Nick on his own. The movie, which was adapted from Robert Silverberg’s short story by writer/director John Ridley, would’ve been better as a short film. There’s not enough meat on these bones to justify the movie’s 111 minute runtime – it’s boring AF.

It doesn’t help that Odom’s Nick isn’t an especially sympathetic protagonist. He’s a selfish, whiny bitch. I dig Odom as an actor – he was awesome in “Hamilton,” “One Night in Miami…” and “The Many Saints of Newark” – but Ridley’s writing of Nick does the performer no favors. Both Nick and Tommy seem to treat Janine and Alex as possessions. Neither woman nor their relationships to these men are developed enough for me to be emotionally invested in the proceedings.

Erivo is one of my favorite working actresses (she was amazing in “Bad Times at the El Royale,” “Widows” and “Harriet” and on HBO’s “The Outsider”), but the movie’s machinations totally ghost her character. Pinto is lovely to look at, but her Alex is given little to no dramatic urgency. Bloom benefits from having different iterations and motivations to play – he arguably gives the picture’s best performance.

Ridley is a talented writer (he provided the story to David O. Russell’s “Three Kings” and adapted Solomon Northup’s “12 Years a Slave” to the screen), but this is far from his best work. As a director he hasn’t made a movie since the 2014 Jimi Hendrix docudrama “Jimi: All Is by My Side,” which starred André 3000 and received mixed reviews. Also as a director … he’s a talented writer. This dude might be better off directing TV (which he’s done having helmed an episode of the Forest Whitaker-fronted Epix series “Godfather of Harlem”) or traffic for that matter.

“Needle in a Timestack?” More like “Needle in a Timesuck.”

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

★★★

For all the fantastical things going on in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (now in theaters) the most fantastical is that we’re supposed to believe Woody Harrelson was a teenager in 1996. This is four years after “White Men Can’t Jump,” three years after “Indecent Proposal” and “Cheers” going off the air, two years after “Natural Born Killers” and the same year as “Kingpin” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”

“V: LTBC” picks up right where its predecessor left off. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a journalist who’s still inhabited by the titular alien symbiote (also Hardy). He remains broken up with Anne (a slumming, underused Michelle Williams), who’s engaged to all-around good guy Dr. Dan (Reid Scott).

Brock catches a big story when convicted serial killer Cletus Kasady (Harrelson) wants to do an exclusive interview with him. During one of their exchanges Kasady bites Brock in the hand, which draws blood and eventually transforms the criminal into the symbiote-superpowered Carnage. All hell breaks loose and Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham) holds Brock personally responsible. Mulligan has a history with Kasady’s childhood girlfriend Frances Barrison/Shriek (Naomie Harris). She’s the Mallory Knox to Kasady’s Mickey Knox.

“V: LTBC” runs a scant 90 minutes and at its heart is mostly a romantic comedy between Brock and Venom and/or a comic book-y spin on “The Odd Couple.” Brock’s pissed that Venom keeps breaking his shit and trashing his apartment. Venom’s annoyed that Brock won’t allow him to treat the San Francisco Bay Area as an all-you-can-eat brain buffet. They breakup. They make up. This is the crux of the movie and Hardy as both Brock and Venom makes the proceedings fun(ny) and worth watching. (Hardy received a story credit alongside returning screenwriter Kelly Marcel, with whom he co-founded The Bad Dog Theater Company back in 2010.)

As directed by famed motion capture actor Andy Serkis, “V: LTBC” is reminiscent of comic book movies of the 1990s and early aughts as well as Sam Raimi’s earlier/goofier output. The action and special effects are merely OK. The flick’s better than the likes of “Batman & Robin” (my least favorite movie of all-time) or “Spawn,” but not as good as the Ruben Fleischer-directed original. (He returns as an executive producer.) The vibe it most has is that of a way stripped-down “Spider-Man 3.”

If you dug the first “Venom” chances are you’ll also dig “V: LTBC.” It’s worth seeing for Hardy’s antics and an admittedly awesome mid-credits sequence that’s best left unspoiled.