(M, 123 minutes.) Opens Thursday.
In a script by Richard Curtis and played with embarrassed enthusiasm and sweet honesty by Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, Tim Lake is the kind of Englishman who should never wear shorts and somehow ends up giving the girl he fancies a handshake at midnight on New Year's Eve. When his father (Bill Nighy) calls the 21-year-old into his study to tell him a family secret you half expect the revelation to be that real dad is another Curtis creation, Hugh Grant's Charles from Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The actual revelation is that the Lake men can travel back and forth in time: just go into a darkened space, clench your fists and imagine where you want to be.
If the mechanics and rules are haphazard, sometimes frustratingly so, Tim's goal is straightforward: get a girlfriend. Soon after he arrives in London he meets American expatriate Mary (Rachel McAdams), at which point he starts going into the closet quite a bit. Welcome to 400 Meetings, Four Weddings and a Funeral.
This romantic comedy bears many Curtis signatures, from the penchant for excessively English eccentrics, such as Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery), to the way banter gives way to heartfelt dedication and a need for crashing romantic crescendos. But it has unclear intentions, and it's hard to tell whether Curtis has fully thought through the time-travel gambit.
As the film goes on and Tim becomes a lawyer and starts a family there are lengthy slabs of redundant storylines: something goes wrong, Tim goes back and fixes it before shooting back to an otherwise seemingly unchanged present day. At first it's amusing, with multiple wedding days as each best-man speech bombs, but the stakes are never raised beyond a minor car crash and a broken heart.
You could make the case that Tim's gift is a curse, and a plaintive query from Nighy's dad to his nipped-back-from-the-future son - ''where have you come from?'' - hints at the possibly rootless malaise. Certainly it sideline's McAdams' Mary, making About Time a story about the father and son bond. Nighy and Gleeson play it exceptionally well but, like Tim, you'll have feelings of deja vu.