IN TIME is a better idea for a movie than it is a movie. The conceit is a clever one, and more, ahem, timely it could not be. In an alternate universe very much like our own, science has cracked the problem of ageing, and everyone is genetically programmed to stop the aging process at 25. There is only one drawback, everyone is also genetically programmed to die at the age of 26. There is a handy counter in everyones arm that tracks the countdown in bright green glowing numbers. There is also loophole that allows people to earn more time, steal more time, or in the case of the affluent, inherit so much time that they are immortal. Barring accidents, that is.
It makes the rich, of whom there are few, very cautious, and the poor, of which there are many, very anxious and when those two worlds collide in the persons of Will (Justin Timberlake) and Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) there is much promise, but little payoff. Hes a ghetto boy who has stumbled into the real reason time has been rationed so unfairly that the poor never know if they will live to see tomorrow. Shes the ultra rich girl whose boredom and Daddy issues have made her ripe for the plucking by Will when he takes it on the lam after his plan for revenge on the rich goes wrong before its had a chance to get started. While Daddy (Vincent Kartheiser) frets over the time it will cost him to get her back, and the honest cop of a Time Keeper (Cillian Murphy) remains doggedly on the fugitives trail, the bulk of the film becomes a prolonged chase executed with oddly languorous results.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol, who has a smooth facility with satire as exemplified by SIMONE and THE LORD OF WAR is less adroit handling the suspense necessary to keep the chase element buoyant. There is nothing left but the oddness of a world where time is a commodity, a not inconsiderable aspect, but there are only so many re-workings of phrases such as spending time or can you spare a minute in the sense of how much a cup of coffee costs before the recast idioms lose their initial piquance. The commentary on capitalism is precise and just a hair on the right side of overworked. The same cannot be said of the script, which barely takes time to establish characters or back story or to provide a solid foundation for either. The audience is assured that flooding the ghetto with too much time will collapse the system, but no explanation of the particulars is forthcoming. Wills best friend (Johnny Galecki) is barely a blip on the radar screen, and the sotto-voiced and stone-faced confrontations between the secondary players smacks of a parody that falls short. The ennui of life everlasting, a topic dealt with so delightfully in ZARDOZ, is here subsumed into fancy clothes and formal occasions by the score, though no one looks any more bored than the species of mortal rich folk to be found in the real, not reel, universe, few of whom are suicidal as a result. Instead the weight of eternity is better symbolized by the oppressively ubiquitous Los Angeles sunshine that washes all color from the landscape as well as any sense of joy.
Timberlake, on the other hand, has some soul, livening things up with a surprising tenderness, amid the waxworks, among whom must be counted even Seyfried, who is usually reliable for some depth. Sporting a bobbed wig of indifferent quality, she is certainly an arresting vision of loveliness destined to catch Wills attention after he makes his way to the rich enclave of New Greenwich, but there is nothing about her as flashy as the bling she wears.
IN TIME is an opportunity lost. What should have been the perfect film at the perfect time is, instead, a near-miss more irritating for what it should have been than satisfying for what it is.