Though its action beats and story arc are nothing if not conventional, this startling commentary on a world of haves and those-we’ll-keep-from-having touches on the greatest sci-fi trope of all — dystopia, how the future looks because of the things we do wrong today.
Justin Timberlake is Will Salas, a young guy who will be “25″ to the end of his days. Or hours. In this future, people stop aging at 25. Then, unless they can buy, borrow or steal time from another, they die. “I don’t have time” has a whole new meaning to the working poor. They sprint, breathlessly, from home to work t0 date night and constantly stare at the luminescent digits counting down on their arm. Time, for all of them, is running out.
The rich, barricaded in their own fortress “time zones,” stockpile the years, live spectacularly well and spectacularly long. But they live without risk, in fear of the one thing that can get them — accidental death.
“The poor die, and the rich don’t live.”
But an act of kindness earns Will time — enough of it to change time zones. He goes undercover and resolves to live it up and take the rich “for everything they’ve got.” That’s where he gambles with the rich guy (“Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser). That’s where he meets the rich man’s stunning, rebellious daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). And that’s where he runs afoul of the timekeepers, led by the obsessed Javert-like maintainer of the status quo, Ray Leon (Cillian Murphy, terrific).
Timberlake is more adequate than epic in this leading man turn, and Seyfried, in a red flapper’s bob, impossibly high heels and provocatively short skirts, still seems an innocent young thing playing at being bad. But she’s good at suggesting a woman bored with a life where she doesn’t dare so much as take a dip in the ocean behind the mansion she grew up in. A girl could drown, after all.
Writer-director Niccol manages to cover the same ground as the most recent “Spy Kids” movie without tumbling into silliness. But “In Time still has its silly side, its eye-rolling moments mixed in with the pungent observations about modern society. The poor are sentenced to poverty and the hint that even one of them might escape enrages the system. What do the rich enjoy if not the luxury of leisure — servants to handle mundane tasks, travel expedited, lives lengthened by a system stacked in their favor? Has Sean Hannity labeled this “class warfare” yet?
But “In Time” is more a potentially great parable than a particularly good one. The earliest scenes, where Will meets a rich man tired of his excess years, are preachy. When Will and Sylvia go on the lam, the film gets a needed jolt of adrenalin. It’s a pity Niccol’s script doesn’t give them anywhere to go. Even with its thoughtful nods to “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Les Miserables,” “In time” never delivers that transcendent “Blade Runner” moment, and never rises above cult classic to simple classic.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, some sexualty and partial nudity, and strong language
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser
Credits: Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 1:49