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Review: “In Time”

Grade: D+ (SKIP IT)

TIME IS OF the essence in another dystopic installment from thinking-man’s director Andrew Niccol whose “Gattaca” (1997) remains one of the best of its sci-fi kind and no stranger to high school biology classes in which eugenics and questions of the “perfect” DNA perennially spur spirited debate.

That’s part of the disappointment behind Niccol’s latest, “In Time,” a fascinating premise blighted by thin dialogue and a too-cool-for-school performance by Justin Timberlake.  His sidekick is named Sylvia Weis – she’s played by Amanda Seyfried who, appropriately, resembles a Felix the Cat wall-clock – who helps to lead the resistance against a culture that takes ageism to a lethal level.  As the palindromic Will Salas, Timberlake is a working-class resident of a segregated Time Zone known as Dayton; he’s also 28 and living on borrowed time since everyone dies – or, as it’s euphemistically known, “times out” – at age 25.  That’s the point at which everyone stops aging and starts dying after the glow-in-the-dark time code on their forearm begins its countdown from 365 to 364 and so on.  Will’s opening narration sets the scene: “I don’t have time […] Time is now the currency we earn and spend.”  Toll roads charge two months, as do hotels, and prostitutes beckon with “I’ll give you 10 minutes for an hour.”  The culture has brought sexy back and, nightmarishly, forever.

Like the character Vincent Freeman (played by Ethan Hawke) in “Gattaca,” Will is an outsider who subverts his perfection-obsessed environs from within.  Unlike Vincent, Will doesn’t so much outsmart the bad-guys but flirt, play cards, and run across rooftops with villains Cillian Murphy (always in the role of the blue-eyed devil, i.e. “Red Eye” and “Batman Begins”) and the sublimely smug Vincent Kartheiser of “Mad Men” hot on his trail.  As Raymond, Murphy is a “timekeeper” sent to take back the time given to Will by Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer of TV’s “White Collar”), a 105-year-old who gives Will his years and plunges him into a world of trouble.

Shot in ambers and grays, and in digital, cinematographer Roger Deakins imbues Niccol’s vision with the look of permanent midnight.  “In Time” has an amusing opener in which Niccol startles us into his world’s weirder realities: Will’s mother (Olivia Wilde) is 50 years old and literally running out of time, but she looks not a day over 24.  He could have done more with this off-putting oedipality.  There’s additional shock value in Kartheiser proudly displaying his wife, mother-in-law, and daughter when all three look like triplets rather than a family tee.  But as time goes on, the puns and plays on temporality fatigue and bore the viewer.  Beyond the “99 second store,” Niccol’s script references “timeshares,” “quality time,” “minute men,” et cetera.

Worse yet, there’s Timberlake who is charming as supporting cast in “The Social Network” and “Alpha Dog,” but has neither the voice nor the physical presence of a leading man.  Andy Warhol famously predicted that in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.  Reality television and the Kardashians made that prediction a present-day reality, and while Timberlake’s talent is timeless as a song-and-dance man…JT, the movie star?  Could Timberlake pass what I like to call the Hamlet test?  Can you actually imagine him as the gloomy Dane on stage, asking “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time?”

Not in a million years.