The Present review – family grandfather clock comedy turns back time

<span>Sticking to western family values … The Present.</span><span>Photograph: Jack Zeman</span>
Sticking to western family values … The Present.Photograph: Jack Zeman

A mashup of Groundhog Day, Back to the Future and The Parent Trap, this wholesome PG comedy gets its narrative engine running when Taylor (Easton Rocket Sweda), one of three siblings in a suburban American family, discovers that he can make time run backwards, going as far as 12 hours into the past. All he has to do is physically move the hands of an heirloom upright clock, and with a little old-fashioned camera trickery and some off-the-software-shelf visual effects and bog-standard editing, everything resets. This proves useful because his parents – mum Jen (Isla Fisher) and dad Eric (Greg Kinnear) – are on a path towards separation, which they hope to announce at a family dinner that evening. So Taylor, who is electively mute, hates to be touched and is schooled at home, keeps running back the clock after trying to make tweaks to the parents’ day, such as preventing Jen from meeting with a hunky student, or stopping Eric from moving to a new apartment.

But Taylor’s special needs make it difficult for him to accomplish everything before the decrepit clock falls apart, so he eventually enlists help from his older siblings, high-school senior Emma (Shay Rudolph) and clumsy middle child Max (Mason Shea Joyce). Cleaving to the pedagogic doctrine beloved of western educators that everyone is unique and has individual skills (which is why we need to cooperate), the kids successfully pull together and learn that they must also do the hard work of persuasion themselves, because time-bending-clock technology will only get you so far. Cue group hugs and sappy music as the credits roll.

It’s mildly surprising to see Kinnear and Fisher, both borderline A-listers or at least B+ listers, in treacly dreck like this, but maybe they have legal expenses to pay off. For me, the funniest part is when Eric and Jen visit a highly unprofessional therapist (serial scene stealer and frequently employed character actor Arturo Castro) who is more interested in his orchids than his patients.

• The Present is in UK and Irish cinemas from 24 May.