Nick of Time

Wednesday November 22, 1995

     The taut suspense thriller "Nick of Time" plunges Johnny Depp into a nightmare minutes after arriving at Union Station. On a catwalk overlooking the main waiting room, a man (Christopher Walken) and a woman (Roma Maffia) are scanning the crowds intently, finally zeroing in on Depp's Gene Watson and his little daughter, Lynn (Courtney Chase).
     Flashing a badge, Walken tells Watson he's under arrest. In a blink of an eye Lynn has been taken hostage by Maffia, and Watson has roughly 80 minutes to get over to the Bonaventure and assassinate the governor of California (Marsha Mason), participating in a political rally, if he is to get his daughter back alive.
     "Nick of Time" is like "Speed" in that you might not be able to go along with it if you had time to think about it. But director John Badham is not about to let that happen, and from the get-go writer Patrick Sheane Duncan is hard at work building credibility for Watson's dilemma. Even at the risk of his daughter's life, Watson, a decent man--and made totally convincing by Depp--is determined to try to avoid having to try to kill the governor.
     This handsome Paramount production is a clever piece of work. Shrewdly, the filmmakers have one of Walken's employers remark that he is less than impressed by his tactic of blackmailing an innocent man into becoming an assassin; surely, there could be an easier, surer way of rubbing out the governor.
     Yet Walken, who can embody pure, scary evil better than just about anybody, makes his icy professional killer the sort of guy you'd be tempted to hire in the first place; at the same time, he's also the kind who'd have a screw loose enough to want to get off on terrorizing an individual picked out of a crowd to do his dirty work. OK, it's a premise right out of a paperback you'd buy at the airport as a diversion during a long flight, but one that is really made to work on the screen. Besides, at this crazy point in history, how can any political assassination gambit be dismissed as preposterous?
     As part of the impressive economy that is the film's hallmark, "Nick of Time," which is spectacularly photographed by Roy H. Wagner, pares down exposition to a bare minimum. In time we learn that Depp and his daughter are returning from the San Diego funeral of his estranged wife; we never know for sure the governor's party--just that a conspiracy of her conservative backers feel sufficiently betrayed by her liberal policies to want to kill her.
     What the filmmakers have done instead is to cast the picture right down the line with actors of such skill and presence that you don't need to be told much about them. Marsha Mason's warmth, attractiveness and intelligence suggests in a flash that the governor is just the sort of person who would grow in office.
     Peter Strauss (as the governor's campaign manager husband) and Charles S. Dutton (as a shoeshine man who hears more than he says he does) have similar sharp impact, and there's a wonderful all-in-a-day's-work matter-of-factness about Maffia's kidnaper that makes her all the more chilling. Indeed, the bantering between Maffia and the spunky Chase, parked in a van across from the Bonaventure, becomes a source of dark humor.
     That the credits read "A John Badham Movie" instead of the * de rigueur "Film" is indicative of "Nick of Time's" lack of pretentiousness; except for the Union Station prologue, it takes place entirely at the Bonaventure. For Depp, the most venturesome young actor in Hollywood, "Nick of Time" represents a smart move into a genre that could expand his audience without diminishing his stature.


Nick of Time, 1995. R, for violence and language\f7 .* A Paramount presentation. Producer-director John Badham. Executive producer D.J. Caruso. Screenplay by Patrick Sheane Duncan. Cinematographer Roy H. Wagner. Editor Frank Morriss, Kevin Stitt. Costumes Mary E. Vogt. Music Arthur B. Rubinstein. Production designer Philip Harrison. Art director Eric Orbom. Set designers Nancy Mickelberry, Louis Montejano, Linda King. Set decorator Julia Badham. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Johnny Depp as Gene Watson. Christopher Walken as Mr. Smith. Charles S. Dutton as Huey. Marsha Mason as Gov. Eleanor Grant.

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