Monday, October 31, 2011

“In Time” – As clear as mud.

There are three categories in which all movies can be grouped. The first contains movies that are well-written, well-acted, entertaining, and you will watch them over and over. The second contains movies that are the exact opposite of the first group – pieces of shit that should be marked with the warning label: “Two hours of your life you will never get back.” The third group, and by far the biggest, contains everything else; some good, some bad, but all that at least had one redeeming quality. In Time really wants to be in the “pure shit” category, but is saved by its intriguing premise. Barely.

In Time is another science fiction movie that could have been fantastic, but was written (and directed) by a nearly talentless hack, in this case, Andrew Niccol. I’ll give him credit for The Truman Show (which was a great movie, but a victim of featuring Jim Carrey and not being a comedy), but was obviously his only good work (others include Gattaca, S1m0ne, and Lord of War). Niccol makes the same mistake that so many science fiction movies make – introducing things and not explaining them. By the way, this includes Justin Timberlake being cast as an action star.

As I mentioned, the premise of the film is very cool; a future where people spend and earn time from their lives rather than money. In other words, instead of getting money in your paycheck, you would earn minutes, hours, or days to your life and you would spend minutes, hours, or days of your life for food or rent. Theoretically, you could live forever or die if you over-spend. This is all made possible through genetic engineering in which everyone is designed to stop aging at 25 years old and their clock starts with one year. We don’t know why 25 or why they only get one year to start with, but we’re willing to accept this as part of the premise. Unfortunately, the movie does nothing good with this premise, instead throwing a bunch of random concepts at us and crapping all over itself.

Timberlake plays Will, a poor kid who has been on the clock for only a couple of years. He lives with his mom (Olivia Wilde) and has what can only be described as a creepy relationship. What makes it so weird, and this goes with everyone in the movie, is that he looks much older than her (he actually is three years older). I know this goes along with the premise, but the way they act together seems more like husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend, including their scene together when she dies. I know this was kind of on purpose, but they make his friend, Borel (Johnny Galecki), look like he’s in his late thirties and Wilde looks like she just stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Anyway, the story stumbles to a start when Will rescues a rich guy at a bar and the guy explains to him that he’s been alive for over one hundred years and doesn’t want to live any more. He tells Will about how the rich are stockpiling years and that there is enough for everyone. When Will falls asleep, the guy gives him his remaining 116 years, minus five minutes, and effectively kills himself. Why does he give him all the years? Will says “I sure as hell wouldn’t waste them.” Not “to make them pay for my mother’s death” or “to help people;” he says he wouldn’t waste them. Yikes.

My problem here is that this was supposed to be the BIG explanation, except he doesn’t say anything we don’t already know. Of course the rich are hoarding years, the rich hoard anything that runs the world. This does nothing to explain why people only get to start with one year or why, as we see later in the film, there are separate zones in the country. This brings up another set of people, known as timekeepers, who monitor these zones. Since we have no idea what the zones are there for, we are left to assume that they are progressively richer zones as the number gets smaller (Will lives in zone 12 and the rich people live in zone 4; we don’t know anything else). And, since nobody ever explains what a timekeeper is, we are left assuming that they are nothing more than cops with coincidental names. The only thing we are ever shown is Cillian Murphy, the head timekeeper, chasing Will around because he believes Will killed the guy for his time. After Will takes off, kidnaps a rich girl (Amanda Seyfried), and starts robbing banks with said rich girl, Murphy says “…we keep time,” as if this explains everything that is happening and justifies their pursuit.

The movie continues like this, throwing concepts out like cheap advice, both with the same amount of value. Will and Sylvia (Seyfried) are robbing Sylvia’s dad because he controls lots of time and giving it to the poor, which “upsets the system.” We don’t know what the system is or why it is being upset, but clearly the timekeepers need to do something about it. Murphy also reveals that Will’s father died for giving time away after winning it in illegal time fights (it looks a lot like arm wrestling where the opponents try to steal each other’s time), again stating that it upset the balance. If I’m following all of this correctly (or rather the analogy), if poor people are given time (money) then the entire balance of the world will collapse, even though it was really their time to begin with since it was stolen (Will’s words) in the first place. And again, the closest we get to an explanation is a giant glowing wall map showing the various zones of the planet and some people who don’t look even close to the right side of 25 chattering that something needs to be done.

I’d like to say that there were redeeming qualities outside of the story, but I’d be lying. The acting is awful and only serves to prove that Timberlake cannot carry an action film and can barely act at all. Seyfried is even worse, pressing her case as more wooden than Timberlake and making us wish she would distract us by getting naked. Though, I can’t put all the blame on them as the dialogue was atrocious. Every line had some sort of time reference, just to make sure we knew how important time really was to these people. Coupling all of this with the distractions of people who definitely did not appear to be 25 and trying to figure what the hell was really going on made this movie almost worthless. And to top everything off, the director and studios were accused of plagiarizing a short story by Harlan Ellison, who settled for having his name added to the credits. When that’s all it takes for a plagiarism suit to go away, you know a movie isn’t good. After all of this, it seems like this movie belongs in the category of pure shit, but like I said, it had an interesting premise and I’m a sucker for science fiction. So I’ll keep it in that middle category as long as the director promises to never attempt science fiction again.

Rating: Ask for your two hours back. Get it?

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