Timberlake runs a lot in his first action outing, but fails to
run even a fraction as well as top-grade action star Tom
Cruise. If you're not a Bruce Willis, it's all in the running.
Science fiction is generally ripe for allegory and metaphorical overlay.
At its best, the genre tends to package interesting and exciting action with thought-provoking ruminations on heady topics like political corruption, government surveillance, class warfare, the perils of technology, and environmentalism. As a testament to this we can look toward the works of George Orwell and Isaac Asimov, and, more recently, films like The Matrix, District 9 and Wall-E.
In Time aspires to this level of sci-fi greatness, and it seemingly has all the pieces in place to achieve such heights. The premise, cast and crew are uniformly excellent, and then, of course, there’s the presence of writer/director Andrew Niccol, whose Gattaca and The Truman Show were diverse and excellent entries in the genre.
Here, Niccol skews closely to Gattaca in terms of theme and content, albeit with more commercial leanings and a very specific allusion to the 99% movement. None of that is bad conceptually, but it all leads to some pretty generic and lazy scripting that works to torpedo what could’ve a pretty awesome ride.
The film takes place in a dystopian future where people stop aging at 25 at which point a clock on their arm begins counting down the remaining time they have left to live – one year. The catch is that, in this reality, time has become currency, and so it can be earned, traded, spent, stolen, or donated. A cup of coffee costs four minutes, 10 minutes with a hooker goes for an hour, a month of rent runs about several days – you get the picture.
The story focuses on Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a 28-year-old slum dweller, who, like many (including Olivia Wilde as his mother and Johnny Galecki as his pal), wakes up each morning with less time on his clock than hours in a day.
Meanwhile, fat cats like wealthy bank owner Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) live life in slow motion – with thousands upon millions of hours, the rich content themselves by attending parties and spending lavishly in an attempt to enjoy immortality.
And then there are the Timekeepers and the Minutemen, the former being a police force of sorts that monitors time and the latter being a gang of thugs who rob slum dwellers of their time, effectively murdering them.
The film takes off when a mysterious 105-year old man (Matt Bomer) who has become disenfranchised with immortality gifts Will a century before effectively committing suicide. The gift doesn’t come in time for Will to put it to good use in saving his mother (in need of a recharge, she reaches him a moment too late), and, inspired by her death, he decides to take on the system, which allows many to die so that a few can be immortal. Populating this
Will ventures to an upper-class zone where he attends a few parties, plays cards with Weis, and makes googly eyes at Weis’ daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). When he draws the attention of Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) he takes Sylvia hostage and soon they are on the run from the Timekeepers and drawing attention from the Minutemen. Sylvia very quickly joins Will in his mission, love blossoms, and they go all Bonnie and Clyde by way of Robin Hood, robbing her father’s banks and giving the proceeds out to the poor.
Accoridng to In Time, bank robbing ain't a thing.
This all reads fine, but the way it plays out is just horrendous. A big reason for that is the dialogue, which, even excusing the litany of bad time puns, is still awful through and through (click here to get a taste). But even more problematic are the generic plot contrivances and shortcuts that repeatedly make the bullshit meter sound off. For starters, there’s the way Sylvia so instantly and inorganically joins Will and turns on her seemingly loving, if overbearing, father. And then there’s the fact that Will and Sylvia easily rob bank after bank with seemingly no issue at all, despite no indication they have the requisite skills.
And don’t even get me started on the Leon character, who I’m supposed to believe forgets to recharge his time, despite at least half a century of living this way. It’s supposed to say something about the character that he only ever carries a small amount of time, which allows for the climax to play out as it does, but that’s bullshit. If I’m meant to believe in the integrity of this world, how can I possibly believe this guy would forget to recharge? It’s not quite as silly as forgetting to breathe, but it is damn close.
There’s other annoyances too – the way Will and his mom find each other and she runs out of time just a second too soon; how Galecki’s character drinks himself to death because he just had so much time on his arm; the clunky way the political message is handled – but really it’s easier to just stop here.
Timberlake isn'r all that bad, but the script gives him little to play, and he doesn’t compensate for it the way some bigger personality actors might. After breaking through as an actor with his vulnerable Alpha Dog performance, he’s cultivated a screen persona as a fast-talking, slickster type (The Social Network, Friends with Benefits), and provided some nice shading in doing so. Here he still exhibts screen presence but is miscast as the stoic unflappable antihero. It's possible the guy could do well in an action role (he’ll need a few more duds before he certifies, like Ben Affleck before him, that it’s not for him), but this time out, he manages to offer up his least impressive film work to date.
The cast is filled of some solid actors, but none offer standout work. The best that can be said for the likes of Murphy, Kartheiser, Bomer and Wilde is that they don’t do much to embarrass themselves. The same can’t be said for Seyfried. I want to like her because her presence is particular and strong, but she really has found a way of picking bad projects and then being downright awful in them (i.e. Red Riding Hood). Of course, it doesn’t help that she has the flimsiest character and gets some of the worst dialogue.
All of that said, with Roger Deakins on board, the film does look great. So, that’s something I suppose. However, for those that don’t care about such things, In Time has very little to offer outside of disappointment over the wasted possibilities the premise offers. It’s mostly just laughably bad dialogue, mediocre action and a half-baked allegory that is… well… a waste of time. D