Dir: Jonathan Frakes. US. 2002. 94 mins.

Nickelodeon Movies' Clockstoppers is the kind of calculatedly wholesome youth entertainment that seems more likely to appeal to protective parents than to a target audience of older kids and tweens. Thanks to Nickelodeon owner Viacom's aggressive company-wide marketing campaign, this effects-laden sci-fi adventure made a decent start at the US box office, opening to $10.1m from 2,540 sites. But pre-teens looking for genuine fun and excitement can be expected to give such a squeaky clean and resolutely family-friendly effort short shrift after the initial marketing push is over.

The ethnically inclusive character line-up is led by bright high-school student Zak (Bradford, co-star of last year's teen hit Bring It On). Rather than striving to follow in the academic footsteps of his physics professor father (Thomas), Zak spends his time hanging out with goofy aspiring DJ Meeker (Mutambirwa, most recently seen in Bones) and pretty Venezuelan exchange student Francesca (Garces, from 1999's Harvest).

When Zak stumbles across a prototype 'hyper-time' device in his dad's workshop he at first uses it just for amusement - by speeding up the body's molecular structure, the wristwatch gizmo brings time to a near standstill and makes its wearer, and anyone touching its wearer, invisible to others. But the fun ends when Zak learns that his father and the professor's nerdy former student Dopler (Stewart, from TV's 3rd Rock From The Sun) have been kidnapped and forced to work on perfecting the device by evil industrialist Gates (Biehn). Now Zak and Francesca, aided by Dopler and Meeker, must go on a hyper-time-assisted rescue mission to save Dad and foil the scheming Gates.

As an unassuming pre-teen adventure - Spy Kids for a slightly older crowd - Clockstoppers is a lively enough affair, with action that steers well clear of anything approaching real violence. The action is efficiently orchestrated by Star Trek performer turned director Jonathan Frakes and the effects work produces one or two impressive moments as Zak and Francesca explore the possibilities offered by their new-found power to stop time.

But in its attempts to add worthy dramatic content to the story the script (by TV movie scribe Rob Hedden and Rugrats co-producers and head writers J David Stem and David N Weiss) often brings the film itself to a standstill. The treatment of Zak's relationship with his dad is disappointingly cursory and the depiction of Zak's budding romance with Francesca is cloyingly cute. Insipid characters and some uncertain performances only add to the impression that the film is playing down to its core audience.

Perhaps the film's biggest claim on that audience will be its prominent soundtrack, which features performances from such currently popular acts as Lil' J, Smash Mouth, Nickelback and Blink 182.

Prod cos: Valhalla Motion Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies
US dist:
Paramount Pictures
Int'l dist
Gale Anne Hurd, Julia Pistor
Exec prod: Albie Hecht
Rob Hedden & Andy hedden, J David Stem & David N Weiss
Cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt
Prod des: Marek Dobrowolski
Eds: Peter E Berger, Jeff W Canavan
Music: Jamshied Sharifi
Main cast: Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn, Robin Thomas, Garikayi Mutambirwa, Julia Sweeney