In 1996, a virus kills five billion people. 'This already happened,' James Cole (Willis) explains to Dr Railly (Stowe) in 1990. He knows because he's been there. Six years and a matter of minutes after he vanishes from a padded cell, Cole is back in his psychiatrist's life. He must trace the contagion, but he needs Railly's help to track down former patient Goines (Pitt), whose environmental action group, the Army of the 12 Monkeys, may be behind the disaster. With its shifts in tone and style signposted by Pitt's buggy loony-toon and Willis's movingly bewildered introvert,
's apocalyptic fantasy is even weirder than it sounds. Less a Terminator-type action pic than a spectacularly disorienting inaction movie, with Cole as a helpless Cassandra hooked on an image from his own past, hoping against hope that he may in fact be crazy...the film's a terrible mess, but a terribly beautiful, tender mess. The screenplay by Janet and David Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) takes off from Chris Marker's 1962 short, La Jetée, but soon spirals into more pressing millennial obsessions (insanity, chaos and ecological catastrophe), before a vertiginous Hitchcockian make-over in the last reel. Gilliam gives the material a lunatic poetry of his own, but remains impervious to the requirements of narrative pacing.