As with comedians Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett’s previous work on Mystery Science Theater 3000, when RiffTrax shows are good they’re great and when they’re not good they can be particularly painful. Often I find their commentary to have an intelligence and insight, and am impressed with their ability to pick up on subtle movie elements that are easily overlooked but ripe for ridicule. I particularly enjoy when they are able to highlight the hilarity of a poorly executed film moment being played straight as if it were a serious piece of drama. However, there are other times when I find their jokes fall flat and the commentary comes off as being more like the jeering of a schoolchild than anything particularly funny. Since the films being shown are, by definition, terrible pieces of filmmaking, a poor commentary creates a doubly painful viewing experience.
Time Chasers is generally considered to have been one of the better riffs done by the Mystery Science Theater crew. It’s hardly the first time the RiffTrax have revisited films previously riffed on MST3K. The movie Manos the Hands of Fate comes to mind as an example of a MST3K classic that the RiffTrax revisited to hilarious effect in their live show. Time Chasers was therefore a logical pickup for the new run of RiffTrax Live performances.
Shot in Vermont during the mid-1990s, Time Chasers was a no budget independent film made by an amateur group of first-time filmmakers. Somehow the movie managed to receive some level of minor distribution, enough for it to come to the attention of the MST3K guys, and the rest is history.
The question now becomes, is this film one of their better riffs or does it fall into the “doubly painful” category? I’ll preface my thoughts by stating that, while I tend to like RiffTrax and MST3K overall, some of my favorite shows have not been ones that I’ve ever seen show up on anyone’s “best of” lists, while some of the shows that do regularly show up as “best of” examples are not ones I’ve cared for. There seemed to be laughs throughout the screening, though it was sometime hard to tell how many were from the theater audience and how many were from the audience on the screen. It may not have helped that I was stuck in a seat one down from the very front row, and that I had to lean all the way back to see the screen, but I found this to be a screening of the “doubly painful” variety.
With the exception of a few chuckles, I really didn’t enjoy this one. The film is such an amateur production that it’s almost like sitting through somebody’s home movie. I found it to be a tedious thing to sit through and there was nothing the RiffTrax crew could say to make it entertaining for me. At the same time that I found it tedious, I was also uncomfortable laughing at this film. The movie was so obviously the effort of a group of everyday people that decided to get together and shoot a movie for the fun of it, that somehow riffing on it seemed more like ridiculing a handicapped person’s disability than it did anything actually witty or insightful. Why I felt that way about Time Chasers while having enjoyed the even lower budget and even more amateur Manos is hard to say, but somehow this struck me as not being worth the effort, and somehow a bit mean spirited, to take the time to deride.
I suppose it’s always hard to say with something like this what someone will find amusing. It seemed to me like the audience was having a good time. However, for me this riff came off as more lame and snide than as anything actually enjoyable, and the film was as interesting as watching a stranger’s vacation videos. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open and couldn’t stop checking the time, hoping for it to be over soon. Therefore my recommendation for this one would have to be “don’t bother.”