We gave it a C+
Despite its premise — which is simultaneously solemn and wacky — Running Against Time is not without charm. It’s about a history professor, played by Robert Hays (Airplane!), who meets a scientist (Sam Wanamaker) who has discovered a way to travel back in time. Hays wants to use the scientist’s time machine to go back to the ’60s and save his older brother from death in Vietnam.
But Hays’ plan is awfully roundabout: He decides to go to Dallas in 1963 and prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting John F. Kennedy. How will this % save Hays’ brother? Well, history prof Hays thinks that, had Kennedy lived, the President would have pulled American troops out of Vietnam. Wouldn’t it have been easier if Hays had just gone back in time, grabbed a big rock, dropped it on his brother’s foot, and had him declared 4-F?
For all its ludicrousness, however, Running Against Time is just complicated and emotional enough to be engaging. Hays is convincingly sincere; his brother (Paul Sherrer) does seem well worth saving. And the movie is not without a certain black humor: Hays wrestles the gun away from Oswald, but then the cops think he’s the assassin, and arrest him. A little later, you guessed it, fat and inexorable, Jack Ruby shows up and shoots Hays. Oh, noooo — and this guy is a history professor?
Wanamaker, always entertaining,is even better than usual here because he gets to pouf up his white hair, wear a brush mustache, smoke a pipe, and wear cardigan sweaters — he’s a dead ringer for Albert Einstein!
Also along for this ride is Catherine Hicks as Hays’ girlfriend. Having spent much of her career doing solid, subtle work in thankless vehicles like Star Trek IV and the horror movie Child’s Play, Hicks does her usual valiant job here, investing a thin role as a TV reporter (she’s the host of — get this — Dallas in Depth) with a playful intelligence and range of emotion not evident in her lines. As always, she deserves better. C+