High-concept, but mainstream sci-fi films only succeed when it is the characters and the narrative driving the film rather than the gimmick. In Time – with a trendy and stacked cast, including Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Matt Bomer, Cillian Murphy, Alex Pettyfer, and Olivia Wilde – is well positioned to tell a compelling story, but instead is smugly satisfied with two hours of superficial gloss and temporal puns.
In Time takes place in an alternate reality in which humans stop aging at twenty-five and “time” is the currency; a cup of coffee costs four minutes, and wages are paid out in seconds on your clock. The rich folks in New Greenwich are essentially immortal, while those in the ghetto live minute-to-minute, praying they won’t “time out” and expire. The film includes every possible pun about time (“don’t waste my time,” etc.) with an insufferable wink to the camera. Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a factory worker born in the ghetto, who aims to end the tyranny after suddenly being catapulted into wealth.
The allegory is oddly relevant in light of Occupy Wall St., but writer/director Andrew Niccol is so pleased with how clever he thinks his concept is that he fails to really dive in beyond the surface to uncover anything unexpected or profound beyond the idea that there is value in “living in the moment.” To be fair, Niccol doesn’t have much to work with in Timberlake as leading man. He’s wooden as ever. Throughout the film, you can just see him thinking to himself…”Look everyone! I’m acting!” A close-up of him crying after an early tragedy would be best suited for an excellent Funny or Die parody of action movies.
All three “bad guys” are underdeveloped and somewhat nonsensical. After much build up, one is defeated through “fighting,” a strange looking arm wrestle where whoever’s arm is on top steals time from the other. Will’s complex but apparently unprecedented strategy is to wait until his opponent is distracted and then to dramatically swing his arm around to be on top. Somehow, this works every time, and that thread of logic is about as sensical as In Time gets.
Seyfried is one of the bright spots, although her choice of roles is beginning to become worrisome. Her chemistry with Timberlake is actually pretty believable, and visually, Seyfried’s wig is the film’s tour de force! Out of the film’s three villains (Murphy, Pettyfer, and Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser), Murphy stands out. His character’s motivations never make any sense, but he brings his typical gravitas and idiosyncrasy to the part.
In Time leaves many questions unanswered: How could Pettyfer still need more time, and why has no one shot him yet? Isn’t it odd that Olivia Wilde’s Rachel has lived so many years when her life is always at the mercy of events such as an unexpected hike in the bus fare? How common is cross-generational romance, given that everyone looks like they’re twenty-five years old? And, of course, the most frequently asked question: why doesn’t Justin Timberlake just go back to singing?