Over the years, Andrew Niccol has proven himself to be a more-than-capable director of commercially risky films interested in the idea of “identity”. More of than not, these are sci-fi films (in the cases of Gattaca and S1m0ne), but sometimes they’re borderline dark-comedies (as in The Truman Show and The Terminal) and sometimes they’re just the second-best thing Nic Cage has done in ten years (Lord of War). Niccol’s latest film—In Time—seeks to turn Justin Timberlake into the star of an action/sci-fi hybrid. Does he pull it off? Should you pick up In Time on Blu-ray? Find out after the jump, folks.
Let me get this outta the way up front: I’m a fan of Justin Timberlake’s. I enjoy his appearances on SNL almost unconditionally (I still think Lorne Michaels oughtta take him up on his offer to join the show—under contract—for one season), I enjoyed the hell out of the guy in The Social Network, and I think that he was one of the better things in Bad Teacher (where he proved that he’s completely willing to go really weird in order to be really funny, something most vain musicians wouldn’t have the nerve to do). I’ll go one step further: I think Timberlake’s a compelling screen presence, and even if his acting talents aren’t exactly Ed Norton or (insert name of your preferred actor here)-caliber, I’m almost always entertained when the dude’s onscreen.
Almost always, with “almost” being the operative word there.
Yes, despite my soft-spot for Timberlake-on-film, Niccol’s In Time fails to make Timberlake a credible sci-fi/action hero. The film’s got a ton of problems—some of them related to the plot, some of them related to the pacing, some of them related to a seemingly wonky timeline—but chief among them is this: I simply don’t buy Timberlake in this role. If I’m a fan of the guy’s, then I can only guess as to how savage Timberlake’s non-fans’ response will be to the film (here’s my guess: extremely savagely).
I’d caught the film back when it was in theaters, but seeing it on Blu-ray gave me the chance to give the film a second shot, something I’d grown interested in doing in the months between viewings. Maybe I’d been in a bad mood, or maybe I’d missed something vital during a visit to the pisser. Or maybe In Time was just as bad as I thought it was the first time around, and a second-viewing would be just as painful to sit through.
As you’ve already guessed, it was the latter. In Time tells the Phillip K. Dick-like story of Will Salas (Timberlake), just your average working-Joe in 2161 Dayton (which looks a helluva lot like “Los Angeles neighborhoods that were cheap to shoot in”). In this version of the future, everyone has a countdown/timer-thing on their forearm. That timer begins at birth and ends at the person’s 25th birthday, at which point they will die. Along the way, people can work, trade, or steal “time” from other people to add to their own timeline: it both extends one’s life and serves as currency. Most of the people in the “time-zone” of Dayton, where Will lives, are “poor” (read: gonna die soon), while people in the neighboring “time-zone” of New Greenwich are “rich” (read: will live for decades, if not centuries).
It’s as complicated a setup as you’d expect it to be, one that comes pre-packaged with a whole slew of questions from the audience: Well, where’d these timers-on-everyone’s-arm come from? Why is it like this? What happens if (X, Y, or Z)? This isn’t anything new, of course—science-fiction has been introducing completely absurd and seemingly complicated plot devices since its very inception. But here’s the thing: good sci-fi movies might contain elements that seem hard-to-swallow at first glance, but they’re able to make the audience stop asking all those pointed questions by providing a compelling story, fun characters, and a hero worth rooting for. Niccol rolled the dice here, giving us a pretty hard-to-swallow set-up (not to mention Timberlake as the film’s “hero”), and…well, In Time seeks to answer a lot of the questions you might have over the course of its running time, but it’s never compelling or fun enough to get you to stop. Indeed, you’ll be looking suspiciously at In Time from the moment it starts until the moment it ends, and then you’re going to spend 20 minutes picking it apart with whoever you watched it with.
You’ve probably already heard that Will ends up with a bunch of unexpected time added to his timeline (“watch”?), and you’ll probably recall—from the incessant ad campaign that 20th Century Fox ran in anticipation of this film—that he ends up on the run from some bad people who want all of that time. Well, that’s basically it: Will ends up receiving a ton of time from a mysterious, suicidal “rich” guy, but also ends up being framed for his murder (that sequence alone will raise a number of troubling questions). He goes on the run—spending time/money in a variety of ways on his way to New Greenwich—and meets up with a super-rich guy’s daughter upon arrival. Soon enough, he’s got her taken hostage (or will she become a willing accomplice?!) and his mission to clear his name has begun.
There are big, go-for-broke ideas at play here, and it seems like—with Niccol behind the camera—that there might be something here worth seeking out. But in the end, it’s all just kind of complicated, too rushed, and it fails to gel into something even the most generous viewer might call “exciting”. I spent way too much time questioning the film’s set-up, and then I spent the next hour questioning the way things played out from there.
Timberlake seems to be trying very, very hard to be convincing, but—even for me, an admitted fan of his other on-screen work—he does not succeed. Amanda Seyfried (as the millionaire’s daughter that Timberlake teams up with) doesn’t generate any sparks with the dude (?!), comes across as shrill, and seems to react to things only as the script needs her to: this doesn’t feel like a living, breathing character, but a walking plot device. Cillian Murphy shows up as the dude tasked with taking Will down, but even he seems lost here, and that dude elevates just about any material he’s given to work with.
On top of the failed sci-fi plot and the underwhelming performances, the special effects here—such as they are—won’t win the film any admirers, either. They all look flat, boring, under-produced. There are a few really ho-hum sequences here that you’ll realize (only after they’ve taken place) were intended as set pieces, and you’ll just feel bad for all involved.
Maybe if Niccol had used this crazy set-up for the basis of a long-running sci-fi series—something with the length needed to fully explore this idea—he would’ve had something. But a 109-minute movie just can’t pull it off, and the whole thing feels rushed as a result. The Blu-ray (which, yes, features some sharp A/V quality) comes packaged with a DVD and Digital Copy of the film, a special feature outlining the “origins” of the “film’s time-based society!” (that exclamation point isn’t mine), and a number of deleted/extended scenes (one or two of which aren’t half bad, unexpectedly), but none of that matters: you should skip this one, only bothering with it if A) there’s absolutely nothing else going on or B) if it comes on cable while you’re pinned to a bed with a raging hangover.
My grade? C-, and that’s being generous