In the near future, well-heeled adventurers, escorted by a team from Time Safari, can simply pop back to a pre-set time and place and safely shoot an ailing dinosaur. The real risk: Should anything in the past be altered -- even a bug -- the future, to which they must return, can be irrevocably re-arranged. A Sound of Thunder is based on Ray Bradbury's short story of the same name, and director Peter Hyams, who has made many a generic actioner (Time Cop), as well as the techno-conspiracy-heavy Capricorn One, should be at home with the material -- a heady combination of greed, science run amok and whiz-bang danger.
But the film is shabbily executed, dragged down by leaden dialogue and lightweight actors, and marked by special effects seemingly imported from the distant past. (Digital backgrounds, whether of primordial jungle or Chicago, circa 2055, resemble CGI recreations of cardboard sets.) There's a hodge-podge of familiar production design: shiny skyscraper cities where folks drive updated VW Things and dress like Bogey and Bacall. (Bladerunner called: It wants its stuff back!)
Even as a sci-fi romp, the narrative quickly leaps the bounds of logic (and time too, judging from the numerous continuity errors), leaving the viewer simply to hang on as tight as the poor souls on screen who find themselves churning in "time waves." The film totally disregards the social and political aspects of Bradbury's story, and instead becomes a poor man's Jurassic Park, where a band of heroes must go hand-to-claw with clunky reptile-gorilla hybrids (freaks that are, in the correct parlance, "differently evolved").
Our leader, Time Safari top science guy Travis Ryar, is portrayed with a total lack of charisma by Edward Burns; after time breaks loose, he's aided by Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack), also a very brainy scientist, but with a smashing figure and a sharp tongue. Ben Kingsley, sporting a magnificent white pompadour with matching rectangular soul patch, is Time Safari's cost-cutting CEO. If Kingsley never wants to break a sweat again, he could easily step into the shoes left vacant by Vincent Price and become the dramatic darling of B-movies -- the urbane villain in exquisitely tailored suits who easily intones absurd dialogue in the rich, plummy tones of the British stage. Every moment Kingsley was not on screen in this film was bleaker, and less amusing, for it.
And speaking of time, some movies just can't get a break. Half of this film involves watching a major American city become subsumed by rampant vegetation and floods, until it's a grim, rotting, damp hulk of its former splendid self, bereft of all infrastructure and inhabited only by looters and gun-toting militias. CNN is running the same show, and neither strikes one as "entertaining" right now.