“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” So goes the opening line to Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five—and so it also goes for Linda Hanson (Sandra Bullock) in Premonition. On a Thursday, the suburban housewife learns that her husband Jim (Julian McMahon) was killed in a car accident the previous day while driving to a job interview. She’s devastated, and spends the day in a stupor before falling asleep on the couch. The next morning, when she wakes up, it’s not Friday—it’s the previous Monday. Jim is still alive, and Sandra is left to ponder whether her memory of Jim’s death was some terrible dream, or whether she needs to act to change the course of history.
Change it she does. At least, some of it. At least, sort of.
It’s hard to figure exactly what screenwriter Bill Kelly was thinking as he put Premonition together. Instead of returning completely to the “past” after her first episode, Linda begins bouncing back and forth through the days of that week. Just as Linda’s connection to reality grows tenuous, so does the film’s connection to its own zigzagging time line.
Premonition begins to stumble over its own internal reasoning, turning Linda into a protagonist who never seems to think seriously about what’s going on. Never once does she consider the obvious step of attempting to stay awake all night to see what will happen next. Nor does she attempt not to do the things that clearly had a negative impact on later days. Bullock plays some of the more emotional scenes effectively, but she plays a hopeless character. Once it becomes clear that she’s either too dumb or too shell-shocked to take simple corrective steps, her plight begins to seem hopeless.
Not nearly as hopeless, however, as the film ultimately becomes. The resolution Kelly settles on is like some perverse logic test, and the attempt to weave a half-assed subplot about lost religious faith into the events feels like deus ex machina desperation. Premonition comes unstuck in time, then finds itself stuck in a loop it’s not smart enough to get out of.