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‘Time’ Bandits: Timberlake, Seyfried Clock Some Sci-Fi

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
October 27, 2011

Featuring more running than an entire season of Doctor Who, Andrew Niccol’s In Time is a supremely silly lovers-on-the-lam caper all tarted up with a dash of sci-fi seriousness. And that’s the problem: Unable to wink at the daftness of his own screenplay — and perhaps inject some screwball fizz into the proceedings — Niccol keeps his face straight and his characters weighed down by Important Themes like social injustice and the meaning of life. It’s a wonder their feet ever leave the ground.

Set in an unspecified future where people are genetically programmed to time out at the age of 25, the film echoes Michael Anderson’s 1976 hoot Logan’s Run, whose characters were catapulted into the sky at 30 unless they did a runner. But while Anderson never lost sight of his film’s primary pleasures — miniskirts, monorails and a lithe Jenny Agutter — Niccol refuses to lighten up. In his us-versus-them dystopia, time can only be traded, earned or stolen, so the wealthy live forever while the rest of us survive on a minimum wage of 24 hours. Credits and debits are transmitted by means of a glowing green bar code on your forearm, and since a bus ride can set you back 2 hours of your life (and a car around 20 years), the poor do a lot of walking.

Enter Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a factory worker who lives with his 50-year-old mom (played by 27-year-old Olivia Wilde, creepy) and survives one day at a time. Then two things happen: Mom’s time runs out — literally; she’s sprinting towards a top-up when she keels over — and a wealthy suicide bequeaths Will his remaining century.

Newly flush with future possibilities, Will heads to the cool zip code where the rich hang out in casinos flanked by armies of bodyguards. There, he hooks up with Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), a stringy heiress whose daddy (Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser) has amassed millennia by lending minutes to the less fortunate.

Given the inherent intrigue of this so-called “Darwinian capitalism” — one can easily imagine spending decades paying off a Lamborghini — it’s astonishing how dreary this all is. Even the Minutemen, a wandering cadre of time bandits, are so prettily effete they would have been kicked out of Alex’s gang of droogs in A Clockwork Orange. And poor Cillian Murphy, playing a cop-like character known as a Timekeeper who suspects Will of murder, is given little to do but drive. And collect his per diem.

More of an outline than a real narrative, In Time buries its more thoughtful notions (we don’t normally think of debts as being repaid in units of time, but they inevitably are) beneath endless car chases and repetitive confrontations. As Will and Sylvia embark on a Bonnie and Clyde spree to drain daddy’s banks and give his fortune to the needy, cinematographer Roger Deakins strives fruitlessly to enrich the flat Los Angeles locations. Offering neither historical context nor any broader explanation for the story’s crueler conceits — how much therapy will Sylvia need to process the fact that her mother and grandmother look as young as she does? — the script offers only a single nod to levity: All of its characters share names with famous brands of watches.

Even so, the film might have earned a grudging pass had Seyfried and Timberlake possessed one iota of chemistry. Instead Seyfried, whose enormous wig and abbreviated wardrobe transform her into a goggle-eyed Bratz doll, seems as unappealing to her costar as she is to us. Wobbling ridiculously on six-inch heels throughout — despite making several pit stops to change clothes and draw breath, Sylvia inexplicably never grabs a pair of sneakers — this usually appealing actress is dragged through the film like so much luggage.

“For a few to be immortal, many must die,” mutters Will’s benefactor before leaping from a bridge, and so it is with movies. But Niccol, whose excellent 1997 film Gattaca revealed a similar obsession with human genetics, is an above-average filmmaker who may simply lack the daredevil recklessness a project like this requires. Are you willing to spend nearly two hours of your life to find out? [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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