Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 20, 2021)
In the short-term after his Oscar win for 2001’s Training Day, Denzel Washington sputtered through some bad movies like 2002’s John Q. 2003’s Out of Time definitely betters that clunker, but it remains in Washington’s “forgettable” file, as it provides an unexceptional thriller.
Set in tropical Banyan Key, Florida, soon-to-be-divorced Chief of Police Matt Whitlock (Denzel Washington) maintains an affair with
Ann Merai Harrison (Sanaa Lathan). She’s married to a violent jerk named Chris Harrison (Dean Cain), and we witness obvious dislike between Chris and Matt. Matt recently performed a drug bust that nabbed hundreds of thousands of dollars in dirty money.
According to Dr. Frieland (Alex Carter), Ann has an aggressive form of cancer that will probably kill her within half a year. Matt recommends that she pursue some pricey experimental treatments, but she can’t afford these.
When she finds that Chris changed her life insurance policy from $100,000 to $1,000,000 without her knowledge, she initially pursues selling it to the “Living Gift Foundation”. They become the beneficiary of the policy and will give her a substantial amount of money, but this fails to materialize.
Eventually she makes Matt the beneficiary and plans to leave town. However, Matt steals the drug money and gives it to Ann so they can split together.
When a fire consumes their house, it appears that both Chris and Ann burn to death. This seems suspicious, so homicide detective Alex Diaz-Whitlock – Matt’s estranged wife – takes the lead in the investigation.
She learns of Ann’s affair, so Matt works to take her off his tail. The plot thickens when Matt and Alex visit Ann’s long-time doctor and hear that she didn’t have cancer, contrary to what Dr. Frieland told her. When Matt goes to see the physician, he discovers the Frieland he met was an imposter.
This sets up two concerns for Matt. He needs to make sure Alex doesn’t learn of his involvement with Ann, and he also needs to learn about the intricacy related to the fake Frieland and the apparently inaccurate diagnosis.
To make matters worse, an elderly neighbor of Ann’s tells the police she saw a prowler outside of the Harrison place, and she notes that he looked a lot like Matt. Folks pooh-pooh her statements because she clearly thinks all black men look alike, but this spooks Matt.
In addition, the DEA need to get a hold of the now-missing drug money, so Matt scrambles to deal with that. The rest of the movie follows these various threads.
Out of Time offers a sporadically intriguing thriller, and much of the problem comes from the frequent lack of suspense. Put simply, Time telegraphs far too many of its plot twists.
I won’t claim that I saw all of them coming, but it lets us know what will happen too easily. For example, one scene of exposition grinds the film to a halt to let us know about a GPS system used by the police. This glaringly tells us that the GPS device will eventually come into play, so when it occurs, it feels awfully obvious.
With so many obvious twists, the movie has to work overtime to find surprises, which makes them less effective. We never really trust the movie to play fair.
Time telegraphs lots of elements, so the less predictable bits almost feel like cheats. It ties together acceptably well but never becomes terribly coherent or well integrated.
Part of the problem stems from all the competing plot threads, as these seem meant to communicate all the pressures on Matt, and they should make the film seem tenser. After all, with so many threats against our lead, we should really feel the heat.
Instead, they have the opposite effect, as the pressures come so frequently that they seem almost comical. We don’t feel worried for Matt, as we know he’ll get out of these scrapes.
After all, he’s the lead, and if he gets caught too soon, the movie ends. However, we also don’t really delight in how he escapes these jams, mostly because they turn silly after a while. These attempts at tension actually alleviate those feelings.
We get a typical solid performance from Washington at least. He doesn’t break a sweat, but he adds some class to an otherwise lackluster piece.
Ultimately, Out of Time seems watchable and reasonably entertaining, but it offers nothing more than that. It gives us a competently crafted thriller that nonetheless fails to become anything noteworthy.