Directed By: William Dear
Starring: Fred Ward, Belinda Bauer, Peter Coyote
Tag line: "Lyle Swann is a champion off-road racer. But to the people of 1877, he's something very, very different..."
Trivia: Andrew Stevens was seriously considered for the role of Lyle Swann
When compared to some of the ‘80s more popular time travel films, like the Back to the Future series or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (God, I love that movie), 1982’s Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann comes up a bit short. But that doesn’t mean it's without its charms.
Motorbike champion Lyle Swann (Fred Ward) is the odds-on favorite to win the Baja 1,000 desert race. That is, until he accidentally interrupts a scientific experiment and is thrown 105 years into the past. Unaware of his leap through time, Swann simply assumes he’s lost his bearings, and looks for someone to steer him back on course so he can finish the race. But when the dangerous western outlaw, Reeves (Peter Coyote), and his two henchmen, the Dorsett brothers (Richard Masur and Tracey Walter), spot him riding along on his “machine”, they decide to steal Swann’s bike, even if it means killing Swann to get it. With only the lovely Claire (Belinda Bauer), a local villager, to help him, Swann tries desperately to avoid capture, realizing full well his life depends on it.
Written and produced by former Monkees band member Michael Nesmith, Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann gets off to a very slow start, with one too many POV shots of Swann’s bike barreling through the desert. Even after the time jump, it takes a while for the movie to pick up steam, and at no point in the film does the action ever reach a fever pitch. What I liked about Timerider, though, was how it spun the whole “culture shock” angle of its story, something that comes standard with just about every time travel picture yet is presented here from a different perspective, focusing less on how Lyle Swann is dealing with life in 1877, and more on 1877’s reaction to Lyle Swann. In fact, I'm not convinced Swann even realized he was no longer in 1982; late in the movie, he’s still asking if anyone has a radio he can use. But as far as the film’s 19th century characters are concerned, Lyle Swann and his “machine” are beyond fascinating. The first really good sequence in Timerider has Swann riding his bike up to an old guy (Ernie Quintana) sitting by a campfire, who immediately drops to his knees and starts praying, convinced he’s experiencing a religious visitation. Everyday products like power bars and glow sticks cause people to stand around gawking, and there are enough moments like these to keep things interesting. Timerider then wraps up with a nice little twist regarding Swann’s lineage (sure, you see it coming from a mile away, but it worked all the same).
If it’s non-stop thrills you’re after, then Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann will surely be a disappointment. Yet what the movie lacks in excitement, it makes up for with its unique spin on the “fish out of water” story.