“In Time” is a reasonably entertaining movie, based on an original idea, that could have been handled a lot better. Or, I don’t know, maybe it couldn’t. Some ideas seem original and able to bear up for a while, but when you really start exploring them, you find they’re played out before you expected. Maybe that’s the case here.
It’s the near future, and science has achieved immortality through genetic modification. To deal with the inevitable problems of overpopulation this will cause, everyone carries a digital timer in their arm that starts counting down as soon as they turn 25. When it hits all zeroes, you die, instantly, suddenly. Maybe there’s a small explosive implanted near the heart that goes off; that’s the kind of detail “In Time” doesn’t divulge.
Time is money, quite literally. Gainful employment puts time on your clock; coffee and cigarettes, as well as rent and bus fare, takes it off. Justin Timberlake and his mom, Olivia Wilde (did I mention that nobody ages past 25?) live day to day, always minutes away from their death. On the other side of town, Amanda Seyfried and her family have centuries. But then one day, a rich man goes down to the slums and gives all his time to Timberlake, right before jumping off a bridge (it’s a real drag to live forever.) “Don’t waste my time,” he tells Timberlake, but he never explains what wasting his time would look like, or what Timberlake’s supposed to do with the time.
And “In Time” never really figures that out, either. Timberlake gambles it away, and then gets it back, and then gets Cillian Murphy, a sort of cop called a timekeeper, on his tail in an attempt to restore order. Timberlake sort of kidnaps Seyfried, and they turn into Bonnie and Clyde, or maybe a futuristic Robin Hood, stealing time from the rich and giving it to the poor.
That just doesn’t feel like enough. Perhaps because the whole thing is launched by a rich man, or perhaps because the film keeps dropping hints about the rich upper class that runs things, I kept expecting “In Time” to go to the source, dive into the origin story (how did the world get this way?) and challenge the system. It never does. I wanted Timberlake and Seyfriend to find a way to break the arm-timers and return everyone’s mortality to the hands of fate and/or circumstance. Instead, they just keep robbing banks, reshuffling a deck obviously stacked by and for the rich. This is what keeps this movie from reaching the level of films like “Minority Report” or “The Matrix.” It’s decently entertaining, though.
(One thing I liked, and couldn’t find a place to work into the review: Cillian Murphy and his fellow cops drive what appear to be modified versions of a late ’70’s model Ford Mustang — big, burly muscle cars, painted primer black. Why don’t all cops drive cars like these? There might be less crime if they did. Though perhaps more instances of stolen cop cars.)