Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) [PG] ***

It's October, 1943 and the U.S. Navy is conducting an experiment in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. It is trying to render a destroyer, the USS Eldridge, invisible to radar by generating an electromagnetic energy field around the ship, using an onboard generator. A young physicist named Dr. James Longstreet is running the test from another ship, while two young sailors onboard the Eldridge are monitoring the generator - David Herdeg (Michael Paré) and Jim Parker (Bobby Di Cicco). However, something goes terribly wrong with the experiment, the Eldridge actually vanishes, and David and Jim materialize in 1984 in the Nevada desert, near the Dry Wells military base.

Lost, frightened and feeling the disorienting effects of the experiment, David and Jim are forced to steal a car and abduct its owner, Allison Hayes (Nancy Allen), when they realize that they don’t know how to drive it. After Jim vanishes from a bed in a local hospital, David convinces Allison to drive with him to his home town of Santa Paula, California, in search of answers. In a heart-wrenching pivotal scene Allison and David stand in the service station his father had once owned, looking at forty-year old photos of father and son working on a racing car. Allison, who had doubted David's story, whispers to him in amazement: David, that's you!

What David doesn't know is that Dr. Longstreet (Eric Christmas), now in his 70s, has just conducted a repeat of his earlier experiment, this time on a mock-up town near the Dry Wells military base. Like the USS Eldridge, forty-one years earlier, the town has vanished. Both the Eldridge and the town now exist in hyperspace, in an energy field powered by the generator on the destroyer, and unless the generator can be shut down, the surface of the Earth will soon be sucked into hyperspace, potentially destroying the entire planet.

Reportedly based on a true incident during World War II involving an invisibility-to-radar experiment that caused the US Navy destroyer Eldridge to disappear from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, the screenplay is straightforward with minimal plot twists. There are several plot holes, none of the cast performances are particularly memorable, production values and special effects are mediocre, and the time-travel story requires suspension of disbelief. Michael Paré is reasonably convincing as a time-traveler, and he and Nancy Allen have passable romantic chemistry, so, if you enjoy time-travel films like The Time Machine or Forever Young, you will likely be satisfied with this one, although this is a good example of a film that could benefit from a remake.

Labels: adventure, drama, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, space-time, war, WWII
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=51, viewers=60)

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