David Oyelowo stars as Jack Radcliff and Storm Reid as his niece Ashely Radcliff in “Don’t Let Go.” Lacey Terrell / Universal Pictures/OTL Releasing

Time-travel thriller kind of works

Letting go of the past and moving on is healthy but hard. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” the old prayer goes, “the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Our very human desire for do-overs has fueled the fantasy underlying countless time-travel movies, including variants like the 2000 film “Frequency” and the 2016 CW series inspired by it. (They’re not time travel stories, per se, but they involve people in the present who can communicate with dead people in the past, sticking their fingers where they don’t belong: in the flowing waters of the time-space continuum.)

“Don’t Let Go” is pretty much exactly that scenario, replacing the magic shortwave radio of “Frequency” with a magic mobile phone. Talk about your do-overs: As with those earlier entertainments, a character in the new movie suddenly finds himself able to connect with a loved one whose death may be preventable. At least with “Frequency,” the glitch was attributed to the aurora borealis; here, it seems to be some kind of unlimited family data plan that your cellular carrier does not offer.

As unoriginal as the premise might be, the movie works well enough, thanks mainly to its two stars: David Oyelowo, portraying an LAPD detective named Jack, and Storm Reid as his teenage niece Ashley, who was murdered two weeks earlier. Their connection and chemistry — which play out over the course of the film in cellphone conversations wherein Jack tries to prevent her death — is critical to the success of the far-fetched story, as it always is with such things. Sure, it’s a sci-fi-tinged mystery thriller, but it’s also, at heart, a tale of two people. If we don’t care about them, the whole thing falls apart.

Fortunately, we do. Reid (of “A Wrinkle in Time”) and Oyelowo (of “Selma”) are immensely likable performers, and their on-screen rapport is palpable, even though they are hardly ever in the same place together, let alone the same time, save for a handful of scenes.

“Don’t Let Go” manages, at times, to generate a nicely weird “Twilight Zone” vibe, but fails to sustain it, as it also runs into some of the same problems that plague movies of this ilk: If you tear the fabric of time by altering what has already happened, it can be difficult to sew it back up straight. This makes for a narrative that is occasionally muddy and ambiguous, as Jack issues instructions to Ashley with the benefit of hindsight that isn’t quite 20/20. He know what happened, in other words, but he can’t predict what will happen when he undoes it.

This leads to circumstances that put him — and Ashley — in sometimes violent jeopardy, as he tries to simultaneously save the girl, by selectively plucking out threads of the past, and unravel the whodunit. His efforts make for a watchable movie, if one that’s less than deeply satisfying, not to mention observant of the laws of logic.

Emotionally, “Don’t Let Go” works like magic. Intellectually, not so much.


“Don’t Let Go”

Grade: C

Starring David Oyelowo, Storm Reid and Mykelti Williamson. Directed by Jacob Estes.

Rated R for violence, bloody images and strong language. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 43 minutes.

Bottom line: A time-travel film that is watchable, but not deeply satisfying

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.