The congenial voiceover at the beginning of writer-director Richard Curtis' comedy promises an entertaining glimpse at a "fairly odd family, too skinny, too orange."
But their thin frames and ginger-colored hair aren't particularly memorable, nor is the narrator's fairly ordinary life that unfurls in a leisurely manner. As in Curtis' "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill," the characters are familiar British types with Bill Nighy ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") playing the laid-back family patriarch and Domnhall Gleeson ("Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows") assuming the role of his affable son. Only this time, the males of the family can time-travel upon reaching the age of 21.
"About Time" could use a DeLorean or flashy portal to go back to the future in style, rather than any nearby closet or loo. Dad and Tim can simply enter a dark place, clench their fists and imagine a time and location -- like a dreaded New Year Eve's party or first-time sexual experience -- to revisit and change their own past. Killing Hitler and sleeping with Helen of Troy aren't options. Think small-scale.
Tim wants a girlfriend. Although some romantic interests (Margot Robbie of television's "Pan Am") aren't meant to be, the time traveler arranges to meet the adorable American of his dreams, Mary (Rachel McAdams of "The Time Traveler's Wife," another science-fiction fantasy dependent on an inherited gene). Curtis infuses their romance with banter and sweetness, and the actors spark with chemistry.
Ultimately, the trajectory of their relationship covers the predictable bases of courting, marriage and children, inducing mild chuckles when Tim goes back in time to make adjustments. The narrative inches forward without much momentum, making one wonder if it's about time to be over.
The strength of the movie is the ensemble cast that effortlessly exudes affection for one another. Tim and his younger sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) enjoy the company of their parents (Nighy and Lindsay Duncan) and lovably dotty uncle (Richard Cordery) at the family's seaside estate in Cornwall. And during Tim's career as a barrister, his friends (Tom Hollander and Joshua McGuire) and loved ones are always there for him.
That's the point: Ordinary life is extraordinary, so savor each moment and try to live every day. The proverbial message isn't delivered subtly but rather as a lesson hammered home in the closing narration.
Despite the touching take-out-the-hanky ending, "About Time" feels like a film that you've seen once or twice before.
Rated R for language and some sexual content. Two hours, four minutes.