Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982)

One year ago tomorrow, the world lost a fascinating entertainer, Michael Nesmith.

This week’s B-Movie Enema will take a look at the first feature film Nesmith produced, Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann. This movie is the rare science fiction western that deals with time travel when Lyle Swann (played by Fred Ward), champion off-road racer, gets zapped 100 years into the past in an accident dealing with an experiment. Now, this movie is notoriously known for being slow to get started, but more current reviews tends to be quite favorable and even calls the movie a fun romp.

But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to talk about Michael Nesmith. Nesmith is one part of a huge aspect of my youth. I grew up in a household with an older mom and siblings that were quite a bit older than most people I went to school with at home. So, I had a huge appreciation for older music. I was hip to the Beatles or Tom Petty or Led Zeppelin or even less appreciated groups like the Eagles and Aerosmith before most anyone else I knew. Then, in 1986, the Monkees, which I was already sort of aware of, made a HUGE comeback.

The Monkees, for me, was like if you took the Beatles and turned it into a cartoon. The music was mostly on the same level in terms of catchy tunes and memorable lyrics, etc. I went hard into buying their re-released records and watching all the TV episodes of their show when MTV re-aired them. Me, my mom, and my brothers even made a trip out to Philadelphia to a Monkees convention in August 1986 that featured Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones in attendance. God, those were great times. In fact, one week after that convention, we went to a concert with the Monkees and a bunch of other old timey bands like the Turtles and Herman’s Hermits and more. That was my first concert. One year later, I saw them again with Weird Al opening for them.

To this very day, I love listening to the Monkees. Man, I know all their stuff inside and out it seems. Now, you may have noticed that when I said I went to the convention, Mike wasn’t part of the show. That’s true. He didn’t tour with the Monkees hardly at all during their revival shows. He was a little cagey about reuniting with the gang. I won’t speak on this with much authority, but my feeling was that Nesmith left the Monkees behind in the 60s. In the 70s, he was successful as a solo artist doing country/western music. And good stuff too. Then, he got into some different concepts. He was interested in technology, particularly surrounding home video.

In terms of music video, he won a Grammy in a long form video category for his hilarious Elephant Parts home video. It’s not easy to find, but if you can, watch Elephant Parts. It’s a collection of skits intermixed with some of Nesmith’s music videos of current songs he put out over the few years prior to the video’s release. Not only was he a good actor in some of the skits, but when he was doing something a little less narrative and just talking to the audience, he’s charismatic as hell.

As I grew older, the more I came to appreciate Nesmith’s songs with the Monkees and in his solo career. He had a tendency to either twist lyrics into a fun image you could picture in your head or really hit deep in an emotional way. I still had never seen him live with the Monkees. Living in Indianapolis, it’s not like I was in a place that would be a major draw. Earlier on in the revival stage, Nesmith only joined the Monkees in Los Angeles shows.

But that changed in 2021. On November 5, 2021, in Rosemont, Illinois, I got to see Micky and Mike perform in what was billed “The Monkees Farewell Tour”. It was the fourth time I saw the Monkees in some sort of iteration. It was the only time I’d see Nesmith perform Monkees songs.

If I’m being honest, Nesmith did appear tired and not doing particularly well. Just three-plus years previously, Nesmith had to go into quadruple bypass surgery in order to save his life. He was, after all, almost 79 years old and the years were catching up with him. Just ten days later, the two surviving Monkees I saw in Rosemont wrapped up their farewell tour. Less than a month later, Nesmith passed away in his home from heart failure. He leaves behind a comedic timing that was deceptively perfect as well as an entire library of beautiful songs and, whether he liked it or not, fantastic work in the 60s with the Monkees.

But, now, let’s turn our attention to this science fiction western that will find Fred Ward in 1875!

The movie opens with a press conference about Project Timerider. This is the first time the project has done a test with a live animal – a female monkey. They’re going to send her to 1862 and bring her back. That’s all mentioned over the credits. Afterwards, we blast out onto the dirt road as Papa Nez’s rockin’ soundtrack kicks in.

I also should point out that the guy playing Lyle Swann, Fred Ward, is listed in the credits as “and Fred Ward as Lyle Swann”. When’s the last time a guy whose character’s name is in the subtitle of the movie get listed last in the credits? That’s actually kind of amazing.

Swann is riding in what appears to either be a test, qualifying, or a race, and, oh, hey! Look! It’s the man of the hour himself – Michael Nesmith!

There’s not much we know quite yet except for Swann is a hell of a rider. However, despite being a hell of a rider, Swann can’t seem to finish. He constantly faces technical breakdowns. He’s good enough, though, that he would likely be a superstar racer as part of a team. He’s a little more interested in being innovative, which, of course, leads to those breakdowns.

I’m not quite sure what the situation is, but he’s got a helmet that has something of a tactical readout and that helps him in some way.

Regardless, we transition to the home base of Project Timerider. They prepare for their next test. However, it would seem as though they are doing their business at the same location as this motocross rally race or they’ll just be happy to zap anything that passes by.

That person who is about to pass by is none other than motherfuckin’ Jimmy Weinert. Nah, I’m kidding. Of course it’s going to be Lyle Swann who will get in the way and get his ass zapped back to the past. Now, some of this is just kind of dumb luck. Lyle was supposed to be connected to his mechanic buddy Jesse. However, something went wrong and he had to figure out a way to get back on track. For whatever reason, Swann went off the course or got a little lost.

He pulled up to where the monkey was. Her pod was between these zapper things. He gets zapped, but doesn’t realize he’s in the past. Back at Project TImerider’s base, they soon discover that a man on a motorcycle crossed in between the zappers at the time that they sent the monkey back in time. Uh oh, Spaghettios, am I right? He’s trying to get in touch with his buddy but, of course, that’s not going anywhere. He hears the countdown that would bring him back to the present, but he opts to drive off. The monkey comes back. Lyle does not.

I mean… I guess the good news is that the time travel shenanigans worked?

Also, it’s good news that the Project Timerider guys can know that it was 1875 that Lyle Swann went back to. They can also more or less parse which direction he rode off in. That said, they do need to figure out what he was riding in terms of range and maybe who he is.

In the past, Swann attempts to ask an old geezer eatin’ beans by the fire where he is. Naturally, the geezer hasn’t seen anything like this. On top of that, the old man appears to be Mexican as he speaks Spanish. The old man drops dead from shock of seeing, for lack of a better term, a spaceman.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but wouldn’t this be a fairly massive butterfly effect thing?

God I hope that old man wasn’t important or nothing. Anyway, Swann buries the coot and moves on. I’m not sure he’s truly figured out that he’s in the past. But whatever, just bury the old man. In the present, the race people and his buddy, Jesse, are still looking for Swann or, I guess, just waiting to see him check in or be found somewhere in the desert. At Project Timerider, they’ve at least narrowed down to the exact day that Swann went to.

In 1875, we meet Porter Reese, played by Peter Coyote. Reese is a bonafide black outfit, black hat wearin’ bad guy. He’s riding with his crew. One guy, a guy not so sure anymore about hanging out with a bonafide black outfit, black hat wearin’ bad guy, is done with Reese. Reese guns him down turning the quartet into a trio.

When Lyle finds the dead guy that Reese gunned down, he starts getting quite a bit more concerned that he can’t radio Jesse. Meanwhile, Jesse is approached by a guy who is from Project Timerider who wants to know a little bit more about Lyle Swann. I do like that Swann is kind of living the Admiral Kirk/Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan life. He’s sleeping. I assume he’s eaten. Now, he’s bathing. So, what was it we learned from Admiral Kirk in that other movie? First order of business is survival.

While he bathes in a little pond, there’s a comely lass bathing too. This beauty is Claire Cygne. She’s played by Belinda Bauer. Funny story about Bauer. When I was young, I remember watching Robocop 2. Bauer was kind of this new blood at OCP. She’s brought in as a psychologist to help develop the new version of Robocop to help mediate the struggles felt by a police strike in Detroit. Despite her obviously being morally bankrupt, young me found her smoking hot.

She is just as hot in Timerider.

Anyway, Claire here decides to get a good look at Lyle Swann as he gets dressed. Unfortunately for her, Reese and gang are also coming to the waterfall/pond thing to refill their canteens. Maybe it’s also unfortunate for Swann as he hears Reese shouting at his men about killing the other member of the crew and so forth. Swann tries to get some help but Reese shoots at him. Swann barely escapes on his motorbike.

In awe of seeing Swann on the bike, Reese decides he needs to get that machine to help him rob more shit.

I want to point out that Reese’s gang is now comprised only of the Dorsett brothers, Claude and Carl. Claude is played by Richard Masur. While mostly a character actor, this was during a pretty good time for Masur. Just before this movie, he was Clark in The Thing. Just after this movie, he was in Risky Business. However, Carl is a favorite goon for me… He’s played by Tracy Walter. Walter would forever be etched in my mind as Bob the Goon in Tim Burton’s first Batman flick. He was Jack Napier/The Joker’s number one guy… until he wasn’t. He was felled by a bullet all because Batman stole Joker’s balloons. Walter also appeared in Repo Man, another Nesmith-produced film. I wonder if they were buds.

Claire rides into town and speaks with the Padre, played by Ed Lauter. Lauter has been in a ton of stuff including my favorite version of King Kong (the 1976 one) and an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Anyway, Claire tells the Padre about the strange machine and how Reese and the Dorsetts reacted to it. Speaking of, the outlaws try to ambush Lyle Swann but they suck at shooting. As he gets away, he spots the mission where the Padre is and rides toward it. Claire recognizes the sound of the machine and alerts the Padre.

When Lyle gets to the mission, of course, everyone freaks out at the sight of this machine. What’s more, it leads Reese and the Dorsetts to the mission. They’re shooting their guns. Lyle is flying around on his bike. People are freaking out all over the place. It does seem as though the person least freaked out, Claire, wants to make friends with the weird guy in the red outfit and riding that machine. She guides him to a cellar where she hides him while also shooting off Carl Dorsett’s nose.

Lyle wants to know what the hell is going on and what those guys’ problems were for them to shoot at him. He still thinks he’s in 1982. He wants to call someone to come get him. Hell, he’ll even reverse the charges.

Outside, Padre Quinn forces Reese out. Claude wants revenge on Claire for shooting Carl. Reese won’t let the Padre shoot his men. It’s a fairly tense standoff. Reese promises this isn’t over and he will get that rider and kill him.

The various Mexicans at the mission are pretty pissed about the situation. They were led to believe that if they came and got water from the Padre, they would be safe. Now, they see this guy on this crazy machine and dressed all in red. They think it’s the devil. The Padre has to think fast. He tells them he’s not the devil. He’s God!

A pair of marshals show up tracking Reese. Claire takes Lyle to her home. He asks if she’s part of a cult. Why else would people live like that in the 1980s? She isn’t terribly forthcoming with info. She just wants him to take off her clothes to help her get to her fourth cumming…

Did that joke work? I feel like it landed pretty well.

While Lyle and Claire fuck, the Padre goes to talk to Reese and the Dorsetts. He tells them there were marshals looking for them. He also says the man with the machine has a strange power. Claire is acting strange around him.

And this is a great fucking joke in this movie. The motorcycle itself is creating this aura around it that makes Reese want to possess it and Claire wanting to fuck it. It’s a satire on boys and their toys. Reese can only see what the power of the thing is and how it can help him. Claire, like many girls and women, especially from about 1955 to about 2000, gets excited around a guy who has a fast thing, be it a car or motorcycle. This might be something from director and co-writer William Dear, but this is also feels totally in line with the dry and sly wit of Mike Nesmith.

Claire is a bit cagey. She doesn’t want to call Lyle by his name. She did say she was born in Louisiana. Her father and brothers taught her how to shoot. Those guys were killed in the Civil War. Her mother told her that she can survive one of two ways: her body or the gun. She chose the gun. She got into a little bit of trouble and ended up with the Padre where they buy supplies from people who might not be able to sell their goods elsewhere.

This blows Lyle’s mind. She said Civil War. She talked about either shooting people or fucking them to survive. Everything is out of Lyle’s comprehension. At least she’s drop dead gorgeous.

There is this kind of charming thing in this scene where Lyle and Claire are getting to know each other. She’s kind of amazed to hear that Lyle went to school, and therefore is literate and can read. She asks him if he has any books. Of course, he’s not carrying any with him. She’s so excited to show him the three books she has. She asks him to read from one of the Mark Twain books she has. She’s totally enamored with how well he reads. It’s a lovely little scene.

Elsewhere, Reese and Claude Dorsett go into the cellar to get the amazing machine of Swann’s.

Claire spots Lyle’s good luck charm that his great-great-grandfather possessed. His great-great-grandmother stole it from him when they parted ways. She passed it down to her granddaughter, Lyle’s mother. She gave it to Lyle when he turned 21.

The Padre comes in a little bit later and tells Claire Lyle must leave. He’s a little bit too much trouble now with the marshals and Reese. Claire says that’s fine by her because she’s done with him. The Padre reacts… interestingly. He goes to the cellar and discovers the bike is gone.

Claire soon discovers Claude Dorsett is still in the cellar and he knocks her out.

Lyle finds the Marshals and asks them to get his bike back. Of course, he has to refer to it as his machine because no one understands the term “bike.” The Padre tells the Marshals where Reese is. Soon, Claude shows up with Claire. Reese says he should have killed her because bringing her to the camp is nothing but trouble. Claude brings her to Carl. Carl plans to take his time cutting her up.

Reese starts to learn how to start the motorcycle. When he does, it takes off and bucks him off. All the various goons around this camp start shooting at the bike like it is some sort of vicious animal. Reese, irritated at the gunfire and the arrow sticking out of it, calls the collected goofballs “buttheads.”

That night, Lyle, the Padre, and the marshals show up and scope the camp out to figure out where Reese and Claire are. While they wait to pounce, Lyle starts showing off some of the really weird shit he’s got from the future. He has an energy bar to get his strength up. He’s got a glowstick to help him see things in the dark. He talks about all the fancy stuff the various “technoids” he hangs out with from Silicon Valley put into his helmet. The marshals and the Padre has no fucking clue what he’s talking about.

When the heroes finally make their move, Lyle isn’t quite ready for the head marshal’s (named Ben Potter) brutality. He chose one guy with his own necklace. He then asks a guy where Reese is while having a muzzled gun in his mouth. We don’t see it, but we hear what sounds like him blowing that guy’s head off after getting the info. Turns out Reese killed Potter’s son a couple years back. He’s got a bit of a thing for Reese.

That also blinds him because Reese sets up a trick with a bucket, some sticks, and his coat. Potter shoots, but doesn’t realize Reese has come up behind him and shoots him dead. Lyle still needs to save Claire. Potter’s partner wants revenge on Reese. Lyle uses some flares and his bike to create some confusion and havoc to allow the other marshal and the Padre to fight off the camp full of goons.

Lyle frees Claire and they ride off on the bike. However, while he was untying her, the Padre seemed to seriously consider shooting Lyle because methinks he likes Claire a bit more than he should being a Padre and all. Anyway, he saves him by shooting another gunman in the window across from him. Lyle, Claire, and the Padre ride off but the other marshal dies from a gunshot wound during the fight. Reese is hot on their trail.

In the present, the Project Timerider guys are trying to figure out a way to retrieve Lyle. Shortly after initially escaping Reese, Lyle’s bike runs out of gas. The good news, though, is that Lyle’s radio is starting to pick up a transmission. He responds with Morse Code. They get up on top of a plateau. That kind of traps them. The gunfight continues.

The Padre and Claire’s ammo starts running out. Lyle messes with the wiring for his radio. As Reese, Claude, and the rest of the goons close in, Claire plans to go out with a blaze of glory with only her knife. Just then, a helicopter shows up to save Lyle. Dead set on keeping the bike for himself, Reese shoots at the helicopter which does hit one of the pilots causing them to spin uncontrollably. This leads to the other helicopter pilot hitting the bike and causes it to tumble in pieces off the cliff. The chopper also hits Reese and chops him up.

The chopper comes down to and picks up Lyle. Lyle wants Claire to come with him, but the Project Timerider guys say no one else can possibly come with them. Seeing the dangling good luck charm around Lyle’s neck, Claire snatches the charm.

And, yes, as he flies away from the Padre and Claire, he remembers the story he told Claire about the charm. He’s his own great-great-grandfather.

I like this movie a lot, Enemaniacs. As of this writing in late September, Timerider is available on YouTube to watch in its entirety. It’s worth it. And yeah, I didn’t find the beginning to be as slow as some say it is. I was enjoying it from start to finish. Admittedly, though, most of the charming stuff is on the back half of the movie. The scene with Claire and Lyle making fuck and him reading Mark Twain to her is good stuff. The whole Peter Coyote and Richard Masur figuring out the bike is good. The action-packed final 20 minutes or so are all great.

Not to mention, there are little funny things in the script that just work fantastically. As I mentioned, the whole idea that the guys want what Lyle has and the girl wants Lyle himself is clever. It’s almost universal in a silly, kind of low-brow way while still being utterly well-done. I still have to believe that was Nez putting that in there as the underlying thread for the movie.

Let’s talk about that Michael Nesmith soundtrack too. It’s great. It starts with a little synthesized 80s vibe. Then, there’s the classic western slide guitar stuff. Finally, the credits play over what sounds almost like what you’d hear in a Young Guns movie or something. It’s got a little timelessness to it that doesn’t feel 40 years old at this point. All around, this is just a fantastic 95 minutes of a action/sci-fi/western romp.

We’re going bring this review across the finish line for this week. Join me next week for a 70s action crime drama that is also sort of a period piece as we hear the tale of World War II vet Kyle Martin in The Farmer. Don’t forget to find B-Movie Enema on Facebook and Twitter, or follow this blog right here to find out when new posts arrive.

Until next week, try not to accidentally stumble into a time travel experiment and end up becoming your own great-great-grandfather, cool?

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