REVIEW: "In Time"

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Most near-future sci-fi films hinge on a single, core concept. They take a mundane aspect of our daily lives and expand on it until a dystopia is created. Andrew Niccol’s In Time does this with time itself: the movie imagines what the world would be like if we stopped aging at 25 and had to work to put more time on our biological clocks. Time becomes a currency, spent like money and hoarded by the rich so they stay alive forever.

The problem with In Time, though, is that it takes this concept and squeezes it until it becomes a parody of itself. The time-as-currency idea devolves into fuel for lame puns, resulting in a film that wastes its runtime rather than spending it wisely.

The main character, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is a man who decides to fight the system. He grew up in one of the country’s ghettoes, where people live day to day and struggle with a constantly rising cost of living. Everyone has a digital counter on their arms like a glowing tattoo, which tells them how much time they have left; if the clock runs out, they drop dead.

Will meets a man named Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), who has more than 100 years on his clock, making him a rich (and old) man. Will unintentionally persuades Hamilton to give him all the time on his clock, so that Hamilton can finally die. Will then decides to steal more time from the rich and give it to the poor in his neighbourhood, implicating the daughter of a super-rich banker in his scheme to be a futuristic Robin Hood.

The idea is kind of cool in abstract. The stakes are theoretically much higher for these people, who are constantly spending their life savings just by being alive. Unfortunately, In Time loses track of how it wants to approach this concept. One minute, Will Salas is living the high life, spending his time willy-nilly, and the next he’s a crusader for the poor. He spends and saves time on a whim, and it’s easy to get lost in how many times Salas goes from having huge amounts of time to being within a few seconds of his life.

The script doesn’t help the situation by being crammed with “time puns”: “You’re out of time!”, “I’m going to clean your clock!” and “There’s just not enough time!”. Perhaps the wordplay was inescapable - even I’ve found it hard to avoid the double-entendres in writing this review –  but in the movie it goes beyond groan-inducing and just gets stupid.

Timberlake’s character Salas is your routine heroic type who magically has hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship training. He isn’t much of a redeemable character: he’s supposed to be a noble thief redistributing the wealth, but has no qualms indiscriminately killing people. Timberlake’s performance in the role only occasionally hits the right notes, and too often he just feels wooden, especially in an early scene when he reacts to another character’s sudden death.

Amanda Seyfried plays the banker’s daughter he kidnaps and supposedly falls in love with. The character, Sylvia Weis, is reduced to a split-personality naïf with an apparent case of Stockholm syndrome. She falls in love with Salas far too easily and acquires a disturbing taste for causing mayhem. Her only noticeable skill is running very long distances in three-inch heels.

As for the villains, In Time tasks Vincent Kartheiser with delivering a one-dimensional version of his Peter Campbell character from Mad Men. Cillian Murphy plays a Timekeeper, or pseudo-cop, who chases after Will and Sylvia out of a sense of justice that he at first denies and later defends. What’s worse is we never get a sense that Will and Sylvia are outwitting these people, because they don’t seem very powerful or clever to begin with.

What really baffled me was the lack of any pseudo-scientific explanation behind the genetic modification these characters are born with. I’m not saying I expect it to be possible, but I’d like some background about how this technology came about, and why the characters need these countdown clocks. Why didn’t the scientists just forget about the clocks and make everyone immortal? Did they vote on it? Without this simple exposition, In Time only feels more insubstantial than it already is.

This is writer/director/producer Andrew Niccol’s fourth film as director, and judging from his writing for the excellent The Truman Show and the interesting concept behind Lord of War, it’s a bit confusing that In Time would be so disappointing. Maybe this movie needed more time to "age" before being made, as with Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Whatever the reason, In Time isn’t even a movie you can enjoy by turning off your brain. In fact, you need some brain power just to wade through the contradictory story and uninspiring dialogue. In Time gets one and a half stars out of four.

Have you seen In Time? What did you think? Did the movie frustrate you, or were you able to have fun with all those “time” jokes? Join the conversation in the comments below! If you’re new to Professionally Incoherent, please browse through my recent movie reviews:

The Three Musketeers | The Ides of March  |  Moneyball  |  Drive

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