Forget Logan’s Run, where the state kills you off at age 30 and you leave a pretty corpse. In the world of In Time, you stop aging at age 25. Not to shabby, right? Unfortunately, you’re dead by 26, unless you’re able to “earn” a longer life. Salaries, interest rates, food and shelter, all are measured out by seconds, minutes, hours…and for the wealthy that can afford it, months and years. (Suddenly my latte addiction seems unimportant. “Caffeine will take years off your life”, indeed.) So the wealthy can live forever, while the poor are reduced to living in ghettos and running everywhere to save what little time they have. And hey, wouldn’t you want to live forever if you looked like Justin Timberlake or Amanda Seyfried?
Timberlake plays Will Salas, a man living in the ghetto, struggling to get by. His mother Rachel (Olivia Wilde) is turning 50, but still looks a ravishing 25. But time is running out — in their world, time is always running out — with little they can do to keep themselves alive hour to hour, let alone day by day. Meanwhile, in another area of the city there are people with tens, hundreds and thousands of years left to them. When Will meets Sylvia Weis (Seyfried), daughter of a big business tycoon, they both learn a thing or two about the system. And if you figured out they’re off to balance the scales of justice and socialism, you get an extra year for yourself.
Andrew Niccol has a way with twisted utopias; Gattaca and The Truman Show are compelling looks at how genetic research and reality television can get out of hand. Here, Niccol takes a look at the science of prolonging life, something near and dear to the hearts of Baby Boomers now that they’re firmly in their AARP years. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” is now “look as young as you can for as long as you can”. It’s not too far fetched to take the leap from wanting to look young to looking young forever, and this film points out the cracks in the human condition that could lead to this science fiction becoming tomorrow’s science fact. “Who wouldn’t want to live forever?” one of the wealthy elite opines. The better question for society would to ask: what would you do to continue living? Perhaps more importantly, how long would you want to continue living? That In Time prompts these questions is admirable. But the movie itself is a less than stellar.
The irony of In Time is that this movie feels longer than it actually is. The mythology Niccol creates here is incredible, but he takes the dull road through. Scenes drag on longer than they need to be, as if the director is pausing for anyone who may not be catching on quickly enough. There’s only so much Robin Hood runaround that can unspool before it becomes more of the same. And at 109 minutes, there should still be amazement and tension, but the story isn’t compelling enough past the basic setup and conflict. Halfway through, I wondered if an hour’s worth of story had been padded for mass multiplex consumption. It doesn’t help that a few of the lines that are played in deadly earnest come off as cheesy jokes, causing audience laughter in places that seem to be set for drama. Oopsie. But whoever scouted locations gets a warm hug from me; any time I see the L.A. River Channel — where several of the high-energy scenes in this film were shot — I think of Grease‘s drag race scene. Would that Cha-Cha had made an appearance in this film. (R.I.P., Annette Charles.)
The actors do well with what they’ve been given, especially Timberlake and Wilde. Then again they’ve been given the more angsty roles, so there’s more to chew on. Seyfried seems like she’d like a meatier, deeper character than her Poor Little Rich Girl, but she’s a great Bonnie to Timberlake’s Clyde. While I’m on the subject of classics, Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) is a pitch-perfect Inspector Javert as Timekeeper Raymond Leon, a man who’s a little too involved with the job of keeping everyone in their place. Sadly, Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four) as ghetto hustler Fortis is so over the top e-vil you expect him to bring his pinky to his lips and as for “one meeeeeellion years!” Casting Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser as Sylvia’s father Philippe was a perfect idea, but he isn’t given much to do besides harumph and lord it over the minions.
In Time wants so desperately to get it’s message across while keeping it’s audience entertained. They got it half right.