Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 6, 2012)
Justin Timberlake’s attempts to transform into The King of the Silver Screen became apparent in 2011. He took on a supporting role in a broad, dark comedy, played the lead in a romantic comedy, and also took on a sci-fi thriller via In Time.
While Timberlake had made comedies prior to 2011 – and had been in a handful of dramas such as The Social Network - I believe In Time represents his first attempt at an action flick. Set in an unspecified near future, we learn that genetic engineering halts human aging at 25. However, without intervention, each individual would die by his/her 26th birthday.
In this era, time acts as currency, so the wealthy can essentially live forever. Others trade time, work for it or have it stolen from them. Will Salas (Timberlake) lives a literally day-to-day existence in which he scrapes by at a low-rent job just to earn a little more life.
Will meets super-rich Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) in a seedy bar and intervenes when gangsters called “Minutemen” come for Hamilton. Tired of living, Hamilton commits suicide by giving Will almost all of his 100-plus years of remaining time.
On the surface, this sounds great for Will, and initially it works out well. He takes his time and parlays it into an even greater fortune of many centuries. This allows him into the world of the super-wealthy, where he meets and falls for Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried).
Alas, the party won’t last, as “Timekeeper” Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) tracks him in the belief Will might’ve murdered Hamilton. He apprehends Will pending an investigation – and confiscates nearly all of Will’s saved time. Rather than sit through this, Will escapes, kidnaps Sylvia and makes a run for it.
It’d be easy to dismiss In Time with a snarky comment ala “I liked it better when it was called Logan’s Run”. However, that would ignore the fact that I hated Run and thought it was a dreadful film; whatever flaws Time may have, it’s much more entertaining than its mid-1970s sci-fi predecessor.
Besides, In Time might share some conceptual similarities with Run, but it’s not a true rip-off. Actually, it feels a lot like a cross between Gattaca and something from Philip K. Dick. The Gattaca comparisons become even more apt when one realizes that Andrew Niccol directed both.
Frankly, he did a lot more with the emotional Gattaca than with the lackluster Time. At its best, Time does boast a pretty interesting concept, and it occasionally explores its notions in a satisfying manner. However, it often uses its ideas as little more than a gag or a gimmick, and it never manages to elevate above its High Concept roots.
That’s because at its heart, this is a chase film – but not a very good one. The movie relies too much on the literal ticking clocks for drama. We tire of constant shots that show about-to-expire lifelines; these create a little tension once or twice, but the movie so often goes to that well that the notion turns tedious.
Which leaves its action charms to carry the way, but they can’t. None of the various chase or fight sequences feel particularly dynamic, perhaps because Niccol seems best when he works from ideas, not visceral material. With a lightweight intellectual investment behind the story, we’re left with little more than action and gimmicks that don’t deliver the needed excitement.
The film’s attempts at social commentary – via a “Robin Hood” style thread – make it drag. These feel forced and unnatural, so I think the movie would’ve worked better as a simple chase flick. Yeah, the end result seems more ambitious, but it’s less satisfying, as the “We Are the 99 percent” theme simply doesn’t connect.
While Timberlake has done well with the dramas in which he’s appeared, he fails to work out as an effective action hero. Oh, Timberlake does nothing to harm the movie, but he simply seems a bit out of place here. He shows little chemistry with Seyfried, either, so their scenes end up as blah.
Actually, that’s a pretty good description for In Time as a whole. Though the film boasts an intriguing concept and has potential, it never seems better than mediocre. The movie keeps us moderately involved along the way but doesn’t act as a good use of our time. (Ha!)