There are few movie-watching disappointments as great as a science-fiction premise gone wrong. And, boy, does it go wrong in In Time, a would-be thriller with not a single thrill.
The setup for In Time is this: At some point in the future, time is literally money and becomes the currency. Everyone is born with a glowing-green digital readout in their forearm (the upkeep on these things must be crazy), and at age 25 it begins a countdown. Depending on their social status, they have more or less time than other people, who are divided into "time zones," with the worst time zone being downtown L.A., not surprisingly. The best time zone is filled with matte paintings of big houses on cliffs, where really, really rich people live, people with, like 5,000 years to spare.
Justin Timberlake lives in downtown L.A. with his super-hot mom who is forever 25. She has a few more hours until she "times out," so they're going to go celebrate tonight. But the bus fare has gone up, now it costs two hours for a ride and she only has one. So, she runs to see him, little knowing that a mysterious rich man has arbitrarily given 100 years to J.T. in a bizarrely homoerotic scene -- the man is tired of living, so J.T. takes his time and becomes really, really rich ... but, ho-ho, not rich enough to save his mother, who dies in his arms, just steps away from him after that long run home.
Oddly, no one in the future has cell phones, so they can't just call and tell each other what's happening.
So, anyway, J.T. goes on the run and ends up in the rich part of town, where he is bound and determined to get even. So far, actually, despite its lack of clarity on its rules and a rather unimaginatively designed production (why don't futuristic movies actually look futuristic anymore? Hollywood has priced itself out of imagination), it's not terrible.
But it becomes terrible so quickly, you'd think it was running out of time.
Following a clever poker scene that ends up with J.T. owning literally 1,000 years, he winds up at the home of the ultra-rich people (they're "worth eons," we're told), and then the cops barge in. For reasons that are never at all clear, they get really mad when time-poor people suddenly become time-rich. They want to take back that time.
So, the rest of the movie becomes a chase film. But why? What happened to J.T.'s determination to stick it to the rich folks? Wouldn't it have been much more interesting to see how he gets them back and ends up with so much time that he is immortal -- then realizes that this world has become so uninteresting, there's not much point to immortality? I would have liked to have seen a showdown of ideas, to have seen In Time be more than just a chase through digitally altered L.A. in spiffy retro cars that owe a little too much to director Andrew Niccol's previous film, the lugubrious Gattaca.
At least its depressing vision of a dead-end future gave Gattaca a reason to watch. (Though, I confess, I fell asleep two of the three times I attempted it, both in the theater.) In Time tries to become "Bonnie and Clyde" with time, but the longer it goes on, the stupider and less interesting it becomes until, by the final showdown I was ... you guessed it ... nodding off.
A movie about the preciousness of time should not seem to last an eternity.
I want my two hours back.
February 18, 2012 -- Video on Demand