Days and Confused

Premonition provides a perfect example of the pitfalls of time-traveling, alternate-universe movie-making.

Linda Hanson (Sandra Bullock) lives a quite perfect life of quite quiet desperation. Husband, two kids, big house, bigger yard, pleasantly same-old-same-old routine. One morning when auto dealership manager Jim (Julian McMahon) is away on business, Linda is awakened by their girls Megan (Shyann McClure) and Bridgette (Courtney Taylor Burness). Linda drives the pair to school, reaching deep into the backseat of her standard-issue suburban-mom SUV to hand them their nearly forgotten lunches. She returns home to go for a solitary jog, take a long shower, clean up the kitchen while chatting with her single friend Annie (Nia Long), and dust and do loads of laundry.

Director Mennan Yapo showcases Linda's routine so closely that we feel like we're one half-step away from having a lively discussion about her preferred brand of fabric softener. She runs her dustcloth along a mantle filled with knickknacks, then tick-tick-ticks the washing-machine knob to choose the correct cycle; our day starts to feel like hers. Then the doorbell rings.

Jim, a sheriff's deputy tells her, was killed yesterday in a car accident. She stops to puzzle over the odd message on the answering machine from him that she just listened to, but never questions why it took a day for the cops to notify her. She retrieves the girls from school, her mother comes over, she falls asleep on the sofa clutching a wedding photo. That's Wednesday. Remember that it's Wednesday because it's the last time anything in this movie is going to make any kind of sense. See, when Linda wakes up the next morning, not only is it not Thursday, but Jim's not dead. He's not even out of town. He's downstairs in the kitchen eating cereal.

And so it goes for the rest of the movie. The disintegration of Linda's life unfolds in decidedly non-linear fashion. Every day, she discovers something that makes her doubt Jim's death or the solidity of their life together or her own sanity. She's a mess ' and so is this movie.

It takes a special kind of beautiful mind to craft a script based on time, perception and reality. A Charlie Kaufman (of Adaptation and the upcoming and brilliantly titled Synecdoche, New York), say, or his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind collaborator Michel Gondry. When a shifting continuum of day and minute is one of a movie's main characters, suddenly everything matters more. There's no room for sloppiness, laziness or oversight; every choice has to have an overarching or underlying significance. You can't jumble up time just for the sake of jumbling up time. Because by tackling time, a filmmaker is sending up a celluloid flare: I have something profound to say.

If executed poorly, however, your primary conceit becomes really just a gimmick, not a statement. And just like that, you've shown your shallow subconscious. This means you, screenwriter Bill Kelly. Somewhere along the way, someone should have shared this little secret: Complicatedness can never be mistaken for intelligence. Without spoiling the movie's unspooling, Premonition is overflowing with such plot complications, many of which are cool in the moment but few of which fit into any kind of message or philosophy or sense. There are too many unresolved rabbit trails, too many un-Shyamalan-esque holes, for Premonition to hold together. When the end comes, are audiences really still supposed to be trying to figure out just why the heck something that apparently happened on Tuesday doesn't appear to have happened on the Thursday that follows it (or, for Linda, preceded it)? Maybe so, but a better screenwriter would have given us something to chew on there, instead of ignoring the confusion completely. It's like Kelly decided no one would be able to piece the parts of his story together linearly ' not even him. So he ignores the view and instead plays at window dressing, placing a wine bottle on a nightstand and a phone-book page in a wastebasket and acting as though they have some kind of import. All they do is point up the pointlessness of trying to untie the knots of his nonsense writing.

Bullock is the only thing that Premonition has going for it. Somewhere along the way, the Speed ingenue became an actress of very present, very palpable emotion. Her depth of feeling was there in Crash, there in that other twisty and terrible time-travel experiment The Lake House, and it is here again. She needs a director, however, who can focus on what she's able to do with that marvelously fragile face (which Yapo, to his credit, does) yet can also masterfully create something around her that is as substantial and deep as her performances. Premonition isn't that film. Perhaps in the future.