Friday, October 28, 2011

Spookily Prescient: In Time



This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

"In Time," Andrew Niccol's latest science fiction thriller, (he also wrote and directed "Gattaca" and "S1m0ne"), is set in a future where people have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and time has replaced money as the new currency. Once someone hits 25, the neon clock on their forearm starts counting down, and they have one more year to live, unless they can earn, inherit, borrow, or steal more time.

The rich have hundreds of years on their clocks, while the rest--the 99%--live day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute. Being poor means having about an hour left on your clock, and once someone's clock runs out, they drop dead.

Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a factory worker in a "ghetto" called Dayton. He and his 50-year-old mother, (played by Olivia Wilde, see how that works?), live in a rundown apartment, working crappy jobs in order to live. Literally. In their town, every second counts, so there's no time to idly chat over coffee in the morning. (Literally.) (And if you think those "literallys" are annoying, prepare yourself. The time puns run aplenty in the movie.)

Their world appears to be a Marxian nightmare come to life, as workers have no choice but to slave for the wages set by the corporation overlords, because to not work is to die. Literally.

Will meets and saves the life of a man (Matt Bomer) over 100 years old, with over 100 years left on his clock--in other words, a really, really rich man. But this guy has had enough of living, and, in a suicidal gesture, gives all his time to Will. (In this world people can borrow or lend time by clasping hands. It's best not to think too hard about it.) Will, with all this extra time on his hands, (LITERALLY), decides to try and shake up the system, buying his way into the rich city of New Greenwich, to see how the better 1% lives.

The time-is-money thing is a genuinely intriguing concept, and for the first 45 minutes or so, the movie really works. It certainly fed into my inherent anxieties about time. (I am always watching the clock, worried I will be late to something, or run out of time before I need to get something done). So when two characters race towards each other with what could be their final minutes of living ticking down on their armclocks, I was genuinely tense.

But while the movie's political metaphor is spookily prescient, (I couldn't think of a better time for this movie to open, what with the Occupy movement spreading, and getting more heated), it's also disappointingly muddled, and devolves into a rather rote Bonnie and Clyde-meets-Robin Hood story, with Will kidnapping Sylvia, (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of one of the world's richest men, (played by Pete Campbell Vincent Kartheiser). She, of course, falls in love with Will, and then joins in on his plan to crash the system, by robbing the rich and giving to the poor.

It's also at this point that it becomes another movie in which the hero is constantly running somewhere, while dragging his high-heeled girlfriend behind him. And she's not the only thing dragging: For a movie all about the sanctity of time, it really drags on, clocking in at almost two hours. (No doubt some will come out demanding those two hours of their lives back.)

Plot threads are brought up, but never fleshed out, (apparently Will's father was some kind of radical, back in the day, though we never really learn much more than that fact), and the addition of a gangster--or "Minute Man"--who robs and kills people for their time is pretty unnecessary, especially since Will's already got a cop--or "Time Keeper," (coolly played by Cillian Murphy), on his tail.

Ultimately, the movie isn't strong enough to get past all the questions its concept brings up, and that can get pretty distracting. To wit: Why is everyone riding around in 1960's and '70s muscle cars? Is it because those hunks of steal are thought to be safer, and no one wants to risk death by car crash? If everyone stops aging at 25, does that mean people younger than 25 are more desirable? Is 12 the new 21? How come there aren't any cell phones? Is it because no one wants to get (....literally) locked in to a two year contract with a crappy service provider?

And the biggest question of all: While Justin Timberlake is perfectly adequate in the role, (and, frankly, does the best he can with some really clunky and obvious dialogue), when the hell is he going to take a break from this acting thing and make another damn record?

Time's a wasting!

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