Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy the Future with IN TIME

in_timeAs we speak, thousands of people are occupying Wall Street to protest the social and economic inequality between the richest top 1% and the remaining 99% of the people. IN TIME, a sci-fi thriller from Andrew Niccol (writer of such excellent films as THE TRUMAN SHOW and GATTACA) tackles this subject in a unique way: It is set in a future in which the aging process has been engineered to end at 25 and currency has been replaced by time that people must earn in order to continue living. The super-rich can therefore live forever, while the poor struggle to earn enough minutes to make it through the day. The world has been segregated into “time zones” comprised of desperate ghettos and opulent utopias. “Timekeepers” monitor the distribution of time to make sure the status quo remains intact.

Along comes Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a working stiff who has managed to survive three years past 25 by the skin of his teeth. After watching his mother’s (Olivia Wilde, the ultimate MILF) time expire in front of his eyes, a typical result of the system working against the impoverished, Will vows revenge -- and gets the opportunity when a wealthy stranger, tired with immortality, bequeaths him an astonishing 116 years to play with. Will crosses over to the richest zone with the hope of shaking things up -- which he does, especially after hooking up with a rebellious daughter of an aristocrat (Amanda Seyfried, smoking hot) -- but little does he know that the Timekeepers (led by Cillian Murphy, invoking Mr. Smith from THE MATRIX) are on his trail.

It’s an original, fascinating, Philip K. Dick-ian concept -- made even more intriguing when Salas decides that his true calling is to steal time from the rich and distribute it to the poor, thus making him some kind of futuristic Robin Hood. Unfortunately, the film is thwarted by some pretty horrible execution. Story aside, it’s flawed in pretty much every other way a movie can be flawed.

There are three particularly glaring problems. First, we are given no real foundation for what the heck is going on in this society. Not a single expository explanation as to how this dystopia came to be. (In fact, Niccol goes out of his way to brush off the explanation early.) That in itself would have made a fascinating movie -- and at the very least would have helped to ground the story in some semblance of reality. Along those lines, it’s hard to gauge exactly when the film takes place. I assume it’s the distant future, but aside from the glowing green time stamp on people’s wrists, there is little evidence of advanced technology -- people still use pay phones, shoot guns with bullets, etc. -- so perhaps it’s an alternate version of the past.

Secondly, the script is pretty bad. I can forgive a few “time is money” puns, but in general, cringe-worthy dialogue is rampant. More than that, the story is all over the place. Clearly Niccol was bursting at the seams with ideas and he tried to cram all of them into the film. The result is that there are a lot of potentially interesting details -- the roving band of time thieves, for example -- that just feel half-baked.

Third, for a movie so concerned with the preciousness of time, it sure does drag at times. Just saying.

On the plus side, it seems like Justin Timberlake has the makings of a believable action star. That does not surprise me, since he was already kind of an action hero (or anti-hero) in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, using words as weapons. Amanda Seyfried, meanwhile, does an okay job as Bonnie to JT’s Clyde. The two of them seemed to have legit physical chemistry, which helps distract the viewer from the dialogue -- or maybe it’s just that she is pretty much the hottest thing on the planet.

All in all, despite its problems, IN TIME still features one of the better and more thought-provoking concepts I’ve seen in a movie this year. Not necessarily a must-see, but if you’re jonesing for a interesting dose of sci-fi mixed with relevant politics, it’s not an awful way to spend your time. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

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