Just a few seconds late.
I went into this movie with a lot of hope, not only because it has been a while since we had a good original sci fi movie but also because the premise sounded a lot like a novel I read years ago. I can’t for the life of me recall the name or author, and I noticed the credits did not reverence any books, so I guess either the writer/director Andrew Niccol (the Truman Show, Gattica, Lord of War, the Terminal) read the book and forgot to mention it to anyone or this is another example of convergent evolution.
So I had high hopes, which I have discovered in the movie reviewing business is always a mistake. You see, if you expect the movie to be crap and it’s good, you are pleasantly surprised. If you expect it to be crap and it’s crap, at least you get to walk around with a sense of smug satisfaction that makes your friends want to punch you in the face when you keep saying “I told you so”. If you expect a movie to be good and it’s good than all is well. However, if you expect a movie to be good and it’s garbage than you walk away feeling like you just accidentally kicked your puppy and he won’t play with you anymore.
In Time wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t even bad, per se. I found elements of it very entertaining, and the concept kind of fascinating. The problem is he story got so bogged down in the whole time manipulation mechanic that you lose track of the overriding story. Also, it is apparent that Mr. Niccol, in spite of most likely being fabulously wealthy himself, has an axe to grind with the current state of economic disparity in our society and really wanted to shove a message down our throats. I am undecided if I agree or disagree with that message, but it seems he could have picked a better delivery vehicle. Finally, while I understand the need to suspend disbelief in a science fiction movie for things like arm clocks that count down the seconds of your life, this movie really pushed suspension in order to facilitate the Bonnie and Clyde Robin Hood story, which kind of bugs. More on that later.
The story. Justin Timberlake (I’d love to give the movie a black hole for him, as his fabulously successful and overly handsome career annoys the hell out of me, but I can’t deny that he is a talented actor and I usually enjoy him in anything he does. Damn my honesty) plays Will Salas, a lower class ghetto living worker bee who is struggling to survive, literally. In this society of the future you stop aging at 25, but at that point your arm clock starts with exactly one year to live. You have to work to earn more time, which is payed out in minutes and hours. He typically has less than a day on his clock, and he has to work every day to keep it from running out. He saves the life of a rich guy, who has come to the slums in order to die as he feels humans should not live forever. The guy gives Will over a century, which makes him a wealthy man. Ironically his mother dies seconds before he can give her more time. He moves up time zones to the rich area, where he gets into a poker game with another rich guy (Vincent Kartheiser – Mad Men, Alaska, Angel, Alpha Dog. What’s with him and movies that start with A?), the evil rich industrialist responsible for maintaining the economic time flow and indirectly the death of thousands of lower class people. He also meets the guy’s mother-in-law, wife, and daughter, who all look the same age. He has a connection with the daughter, Sylvie Weis (Amanda Seyfried – Jennifer’s Body, Red Riding Hood, Mean Girls) and encourages her to take a risk, something the rich in this world never do. At that point the police, called Time Keepers, catch up to him, thinking he stole the money. They are headed up by Johnny Depp-wannabe Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow from the Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception. Batman image courtesy of the Batman T shirts category), who is actually pretty cool. They take all his time, but he escapes and kidnaps Sylvia. At this point the movie turns into a huge Bonnie and Clyde film, with the two of them being chased by the cops and a bunch of gang members called Minute Men who steal time from people. She eventually joins him willingly and they go on a Robin Hood like crime spree, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Sci fi-ish crime drama ensues. There are a couple of good scenes (the final confrontation between Will and the Minute Men in particular).
The problem this movie suffers under is you get so bogged down in the intricacies of time transference that it distracts you from the story. The first time Will’s clock ran down to a few seconds was exciting, The fifth time not so much. While the premise is clever, and everyone spends all day looking at the clock on their arm, in the end you get tired of them constantly transferring it back and forth. Also, the social interaction of this kind of boggles my mind. It’s like this. At one point Sylvia says to Will “I know where we can get all the time we want”. Does she have some kind of clever insider scam based on years of living with her father, who owns most of the banks in the time zone? No. Her plan is to drive a truck through the wall of a time lender and steal thousands of years at gunpoint. If it’s that easy, why doesn’t everyone do it? I mean, if you have an hour left on your clock and you are going to die anyway, why not go on a crime spree? Heck, if I were a less moral person I might just pick up a brick and hit the next 10 people I came across on the head and steal their time. There are a couple of scenes where they show people just keeled over dead. Seems awfully passive of them. There’s another scene where the Minute Men line up a bunch of people and start to “clean their clocks”. Sure, they have guns, but there are only four of them and they had like 20 people lined up. If I was about to die in a few seconds anyway I think I would risk a bullet. For that matter, how is it the people with just a year on their clock ever agreed to this? Or haven’t risen up and wrecked the upper crust? I think the director was so bent on showing the evil of economic disparity that he missed some pretty obvious human nature questions.
The stars. Interesting premise. One star. Good acting all around. One star. Dialog was reasonably well written (more on that later). One star. The overriding message, while extremely didactic, was well delivered. One star. The love interest and pretty much every other woman in this film was easy on the eyes. One star. They did something really, really cool with the cars. Instead of designing brand new cars that look like sex toys with wheels (cough cough Demolition Man cough cough) they took cool classic American cars, buffed a few edges, and gave them electric sounding motors. Some of them had fins. It was like being in the world of Fallout without the nuclear war. One star. They also didn’t push the science fiction technology so far as to be annoying. No ray guns, no androids. It felt like a slightly different world maybe ten years in the future. One star. The struggle for the working man to keep his clock ticking was well portrayed. One star. Generally fun movie. One star. Total: nine stars.
The black holes. Way too much time spent (haw!) on time transference. One black hole. The whole “why would you passively watch your clock run down instead of going nuts” question. One black hole. I know the point is that everyone in the world stops aging at 25, but do they all have to be incredibly hot as well as young? The entire movie felt like I was trapped in an Abercrombie and Fitch. One black hole. With a couple of exceptions, the action was pretty blasé. One black hole. No effort was really made to distinguish between the language and dialect of the lower and upper class people. One black hole. The crime spree Will and Sylvia went on got ludicrous in their success rate. Sure, suspension of disbelief and all that, but I have a hard time with the idea that the cops of the time based economy are significantly less competent than cops of today. Is it reasonable to assume that two wanted criminals can walk into a bank with no plan and just a couple guns and then get away without any chance of being caught? Seems some effort could have been made to show these people as having an edge lacking in the average criminal. One black hole. While entertaining, the entire movie felt a little soulless, it was rated PG-13 when it really should have been R, and the message and story continually got in each others way. One black hole. Total: seven black holes.
A grand total of two stars. Not bad, and if you don’t mind some of the more esoteric black holes I gave it you can enjoy it. There really isn’t much in the camera work to demand a big screen, so feel free to see it on video. Not a good date film either, as the romance is grossly underdeveloped (I almost gave another black hole for that) and the economic machinations can actually get kind of boring.
Thanks for reading. I think I am going to try to see either Anonymous or the Rum Diary later today. I can’t decide which one I am more apathetic about. I don’t really care about a fictionalized story of Shakespeare, and Hunter S Thompson is a guy who wrote for a magazine I never read. Maybe I’ll see Puss n’ Boots, if my brain can handle it. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Talk to you soon.