Thrill Seekers (1999) poster

Thrill Seekers (1999)


aka The Time Shifters

USA. 1999.


Director – Mario Azzopardi, Screenplay – Kurt Interbitzin & Gay Walch, Producer – Tom Luse, Photography – Derick Linderschultz, Music – Fred Mollin, Visual Effects – GDVFX (Supervisor – John Cox), Special Effects Supervisor – Michael Kavanaugh, Production Design – Peter Cosco. Production Company – Avenue Pictures/Abandon Pictures/Carlton America.


Casper Van Dien (Tom Merrick), Catherine Bell (Elizabeth Wintern), Peter Outerbridge (Felder), Theresa Saldana (Cortez), Lawrence Dane (Agent Baker), Julian Richings (Murray Trevor), Mimi Kuzyk (Eleanor Grayson), James Allodi (Agent Stanton), Martin Sheen (Grifasi), Marc Donato (Kevin Merrick), Deborah Odell (Jennifer)


Tom Merrick is a top tv journalist who specialises in reporting on disasters. However, when his camera crew are killed during the coverage of a power plant disaster, Tom has a crisis of confidence. He quits and takes a job with the tabloid magazine National Inquisitor. Asked to do a story on disasters throughout history, Tom is astounded while going through the archives to find the same man in photos taken at several famous disaster scenes, unaged despite the difference in years. While taking a plane flight, Tom is startled to find the same man aboard the plane. Searching the man’s bag, he finds a brochure from a company called Thrill Seekers, which offers tourists the opportunity to visit various disasters throughout history. Tom realises that the plane is about to crash and snatches the man’s gun and uses it to direct the pilot to make a safe landing. He is arrested by the FBI but broken out by two temporal agents who want to repair the damage that has been caused to the timeline by Tom’s preventing the plane crash. Escaping with the help of the National Inquisitor’s archive clerk Elizabeth Wintern, Tom tries to stop the disasters that the brochure says will happen over the next two days – a subway crash and a fire at a stadium. Both the FBI and the temporal agents come hunting Tom, the temporal agents seeking to eliminate him because the changes he has wrought are wreaking devastation on the timeline they have come from. However, if Tom does not prevent the stadium disaster, this will mean that his ex-wife and son will be killed.

Thrill Seekers was a direct-to-cable/dvd item. It gives the appearance of having been tossed off as a film that nobody seemed interested in. Even the title Thrill Seekers (The Time Shifters in the US) seems an uninspiring one – in fact, one passed it over at first glance, assuming it to be a B-budget action film. And as Thrill Seekers starts, there is not a huge amount that seems set to change one’s expectations.

The plot of temporal tourists seems a rehash of the much more conceptually challenging Timescape (1992). The coincidences that the plot requires make one groan in disbelief – ie. Casper Van Dien discovers the same person is in photos at the scenes of major disasters throughout history and then in the very next scene gets on a plane and finds the man there as well.

The film has a number of credibility (or rather credulity) holes – like why a tabloid newspaper that clearly makes up most of its headlines would waste money by sending a top reporter out to engage in investigative journalism. The concept of investigative journalism in tabloid magazines (outside of paparazzi shots) is an oxymoron. The other main credibility hole Thrill Seekers has is that if temporal tourism to historical catastrophes were such a thriving industry, then surely the plane flight that Casper Van Dien takes would be filled with dozens if not hundreds of other people all come from various points in the future to watch the disaster happen.

Casper Van Dien and Catherine Bell in Thrill Seekers (1999)
Casper Van Dien and Catherine Bell fight to change the future

All of that said, Thrill Seekers plays out through the basic cliches and doesn’t fall flat on its face with any obvious howlers. The second half of the film becomes a halfway reasonable science-fiction film. Things become interesting as we are drawn between Casper Van Dien who has standard heroic motives in attempting to stop the disasters from happening, which include trying to prevent his family from being killed, and the two temporal agents who are seeking to eliminate him because he is causing sweeping changes to the timeline they come from, including causing millions of people who are the descendants of those who would have been killed in the accidents to suddenly appear. The last quarter of the film becomes rather clever with everything going wrong, even the jolt killing off of heroine Catherine Bell, and Casper Van Dien flipping back through time trying to prevent this happening.

As the hero of the hour, we have the impossibly handsome Casper Van Dien, who has spent most of his career stuck in B-budget junk. Van Dien has a handsome competence in the role. He is balanced out by an appealingly perky performance from the lovely Catherine Bell. There is also a worthwhile performance from Peter Outebridge who invests the role of the pursuing heavy with a number of moral dimensions that make it stand out. The same cannot be said for his companion Theresa Saldana who plays through a thick foreign accent and looks like an aged woman trying to dress up in leather and vinyl and go out dressed to kill despite being twenty years past the age when this is likely to turn any heads.

Director Mario Azzopardi’s other genre films include:- the horror film Deadline (1980); the serial killer thriller Bone Daddy (1998), the clairvoyance film Still Small Voices (2006), Witchslayer Gretl (2012) and Aladdin and the Death Lamp (2012).

Trailer here

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