Malcolm McDowell is H.G. Wells. He has invented a time machine and is about to use it to explore the past and future from his home in 1890, London. But at a dinner party where he is announcing his project one of his friends John Leslie Stevenson steals it to escape from the police who have discovered that he is Jack the Ripper. Stevenson is played by David Warner that I only know from his turn as Bob Cratchit in the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol.
After the time machine returns empty from the Ripper’s escape Wells follows him back to 1979 San Francisco. No explanation is given as to how the time machine can also move through space but since this movie isn’t very good, we won’t quibble about unimportant gaps.
In San Francisco Wells meets up with a currency exchange bank clerk named Amy Robbins played abysmally by Mary Steenburgen and naturally they fall in love and we’re trapped into listening to their various thoughts on women’s liberation and casual sex. It’s pretty awful. Amy thinks her “career” at the bank is her whole life. She left her husband because he wanted her to raise a family. The monster.
Wells finds Stevenson and he tells Wells that 1979 is the greatest place in the world for Jack the Ripper with casual sex and easy access to women and sharp knives. Then there is this ridiculous chase scene where the two Englishmen are running around on the streets of San Francisco. It looks ludicrous and they’re not really running very fast. Then supposedly Stevenson is killed in a minor car accident. Wells takes this opportunity to see the Redwoods outside of San Francisco and talk to Amy about women’s lib again.
Then we find out that Jack the Ripper must not have been killed because women start turning up butchered. Wells tells Amy that he’s from 1890. She tells him he’s nuts and to prove to her that he is telling the truth he uses the time machine to bring her forward a week and she finds a newspaper that shows that Jack the Ripper has killed her the day before.
So, they go back to the week before and try to catch the Ripper and save Amy’s life. Cars get flat tires; Wells is arrested by the police as the Ripper and it appears that Amy is murdered and hacked to pieces by the Ripper. The police let Wells go because he couldn’t have killed Amy while he was in custody. But, big mistake, it was Amy’s friend who was butchered and now Stevenson has her hostage and wants to trade her life for the key to the time machine.
Stevenson tricks Wells and after getting the key takes Amy with him as he heads to the time machine. Wells takes a car and somehow figures out how to drive at night in a crowded city and follows them to the machine. There he begs for Amy’s life but Stevenson decides to take her with him but somehow in a way that doesn’t make any sense she escapes him. As Stevenson enters into the machine and begins setting it for the future Wells removes another key from the outside of the machine and this sends Stevenson to “infinity,” whatever that means. Hoorah for Wells and Amy. Now Amy decides that her bank job isn’t as important as marrying Wells back in 1890. And they live happily ever after.
This movie is so bad that it both sucks and blows. The special effects are laughably bad and cheap looking. They remind me of some effects that they used on Gilligan’s Island. The dialog is awful and the 1970s disco hedonism is embarrassing. Mary Steenburgen is an awful actress but this part is even below her talents. The quality of this film is at the level of a made for television movie. McDowell and Warner are decent actors but they aren’t given anything to work with here. It’s all too silly and badly done.