In Time, the new sci-fi allegorical action thriller, takes off from a premise that’s shrewd, fun, original, and (in every sense) timely. In a not-so-distant future, when the middle class has collapsed and the wealth is controlled by one percent of the population, everyone gets to live until they’re 25 years old — and from that moment on, they’re living on borrowed, or stolen, time. Each person who has passed the quarter-century mark has a digital clock embedded in their forearm (the green numbers appear right on the skin) that registers how much time they have left before they kick off. Once you’re 25, you don’t age physically, but you can keep living as long as you keep adding to that time clock.
Some have just a few weeks or days left; others have years, or even centuries. The thing is, you can get more time — by having it transferred from others (a literal arm-to-arm exchange), or earning it on the job, or procuring it illegally. Time, in this society, is literally money: Things are paid for in temporal units (a cup of coffee costs four minutes; a fancy car will set the buyer back five months). Justin Timberlake, tense and in command, stars as Will Salas, a dude from one of the ghetto zones who, as the movie opens, is down to his final hours.
That is, until he meets a rich kid in a bar who is worth centuries. The kid doesn’t want to live anymore, so after Will rescues him from a violent encounter, he gives Will all of his time. This gives Will the chance to buy his way across the ghetto zones and into New Greenwich, the gleaming city of moneyed aristocrats where the one percent live. Along the way, he’s pursued by a cop, played by pasty, android-eyed Cillian Murphy, who looks scarier in every film. He hooks up with a rich girl played by Amanda Seyfried, decked out in an Anna Karina-meets-Lady Gaga wig that all but swallows her looks, and also overwhelms what there is of her performance. (There isn’t much). And, of course, he Fights the System.
In Time was directed by Andrew Niccol, who showed a gift for science fiction in Gattaca (1997), and for about 45 minutes the movie is taut and intriguing. The whole time thing really works — physically, and also metaphorically, as an almost too-perfect symbol of our own lopsided wealth culture, and of the desperation of those who literally feel like they’re running out of resources. But the movie, I’m sad to report, has a majorly disappointing follow-through. It turns into a noisy, squalling chase movie. Timberlake and Seyfried’s relationship is way too thin to make us believe in them as a powerful outlaw couple, and the plot, once you get past the premise, is basically all clichés. In Time so runs out of imaginative gas that I can’t, in the end, recommend it. Yet Timberlake, in his best scenes, reminds you that he really is a natural actor. He just needs to find a movie worthy of his hot/cool Gen-Y Steve McQueen squint. C+