One to watch

Movie: Clockstoppers

Our Rating: 3.00

Nickelodeon Movies proves how well it knows its market with "Clockstoppers," a sci-fi adventure that aims squarely for the heart of pubescent America -- and scores an unmitigated bull's-eye.

When high-schooler Zak Gibbs (Jesse Bradford) stumbles across a top-secret wristwatch that ushers its wearer onto a hyperfast plane of reality, his audience is treated to a panoply of truly special effects. At the touch of a button, Zak's metabolism speeds up to such a degree that the world around him appears to slow to a near-standstill. Streams of water hang precariously in the air and ostensibly stationary automobiles leave neon trails of implied nighttime movement.

The movie is more remarkable for these niftily executed gags than for its plot, familiar folderol that sets Zak on a mission to rescue his science-geek father (Robin Thomas) from an evil techno-magnate who is bent on controlling the timepiece's awesome capabilities. Anybody can write a story like this, but what separates "Clockstoppers" from the kid-action pack is how effectively it plays upon its audience's fantasies of power and affluence. Zak pines for a red Mustang convertible, and the movie establishes early on that he has a serious shot at acquiring it. He's also a whiz on the classy, pricey Gibson Flying V guitar he keeps in his bedroom. (Zak's mutant-blues riffs, however, are mere sorbet between the heaping courses of new-school punk served up on the movie's soundtrack.)

With cars, guitars and gadgets accounted for, there's one commodity left to pursue: babes. Our hero's earnest adventuring puts him in good with a luscious, underdressed Venezuelan schoolmate named Francesca (Paula Garc?s, playing the hottest foreign-exchange student since Fabiana Udenio in "Summer School"). As a character, Francesca represents unrepentant eye candy. One scene even shows her puttering around in a towel after emerging from a shower, in full view of male companions of two generations. Take any 12-year-old boy to see this picture, and he'll be your slave for a year.

You won't be bored to tears, either. The story is kept boiling by director Jonathan Frakes, whose involvement in the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" franchise has allowed him to work on both sides of the camera. Frakes' foray into non-Federation cinema is marked by scripted repartee that's actually superior to the dialogue in many action flicks made for "adults."

This is not to imply that "Clockstoppers" isn't inherently stupid; it's just far less stupid than most of its competition. I positively cringed at the pointless, time-wasting turntable battle between an obnoxious white DJ and Zak's token black bud, Meeker (Garikayi Mutambirwa). But even with such groaners acknowledged, there's plenty of honest fun here to blow a week's allowance on.

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