1895. London. At his salon, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) tells some friends about his new invention — the time machine. Unexpectedly the police knock at the door. One guest, Dr. Stevenson (David Warner), exits aboard the time machine. He is, in fact, Jack the Ripper. Wells calls the vehicle back and follows the murderer into another time (1979) and place (San Francisco).

This comedy-mystery is directed by Nichols Meyer (The Seven Per-Cent Solution) who has a penchant for the "what-if" genre of movie. In the brave new world of the twentieth century, Wells is dismayed not to find his hoped-for utopia (despite such marvels as the electric toothbrush). Jack the Ripper's crimes are nothing special in the sleazy context of contemporary San Francisco. Although McDowell and Warner meet the demands of their roles, Mary Steenburgen (last seen in Goin' South) steals the film with her kooky and captivating portrait of the liberated woman who wins Wells' affection and Warner's ire.