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MOVIES: Mega Time Squad [Fantasia 2018]

The small town of Thames, New Zealand becomes an epicenter of insanity when low-level hood Johnny (Anton Tennet) rips off a group of Chinese gangsters, and elects to keep the cash for himself instead of turning it over to his sadistic boss, Shelton (Jonny Brugh). Now both gangs want to kill him, but Johnny has a secret weapon: an ancient Chinese bracelet that imbues its wearer with the ability to travel through time.

Despite being warned of the consequences should he happen to encounter another version of himself from a different time, Johnny eschews conventional time travel wisdom by zipping around through the timeline and putting together a gang comprised entirely of copies of himself. But when he loses track of which version is the "original" Johnny, and each copy begins to formulate a different agenda, things go predictably off the rails as Johnny slowly loses control of his counterparts just as the rival gangs begin to close in.

Making its world premiere as an official selection of the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival, writer/director Tim van Dammen's Mega Time Squad is cognizant of the genre's tropes, but gleefully delights in subverting expectations throughout the film's brisk 85-minute runtime. While there are shades of time travel mainstays like Looper, things rarely play out the way we anticipate, and the humor baked into the script - often childish, but nearly always hilarious - is all homegrown. Fans of New Zealand hits like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows should find plenty to enjoy here.

Tennet, who spends a significant amount of time sharing the screen with other versions of himself, exhibits superb comedic timing, and does a nice job portraying the subtle differences in the personalities of each Johnny. With the central thrust of the film dependent on audiences buying into the idea of the same space being occupied by multiple versions of our hero, Mega Time Squad would fall apart if the illusion weren't convincing - luckily, van Dammen's work holds up under scrutiny, which is particularly impressive given the film's relatively low production budget. Clever, goofy and incredibly fun, this is one of the hidden gems of this year's festival, and while it may be a bit too weird to find mainstream success, it's a perfect offering for genre fans.

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