In "Nick of Time," assassins kidnap an accountant (Johnny Depp) and his daughter from Los Angeles' Union Station at 12:15 p.m. and threaten to kill the girl unless the man murders the governor by 1:30. (Rated R)
The title alone might spoil the suspense for more experienced moviegoers. But for those who haven't yet seen the word "suspense" on their vocabulary lists, "Nick of Time" can be a true, edge-of-the-seat, life-and-death thriller.
"I liked it. I thought it was exciting and stuff," said 10-year-old Sarah Strickland of San Clemente.
It helps if viewers know how to tell time and count backward. The 1-hour, 15-minute film includes lots of shots of clocks and digital readouts counting down the real minutes to Depp's deadline: Before the time elapses, he must make the liberal governor (Marsha Mason) a literal bleeding heart, or else see his own daughter murdered.
More Hitchcockian than Sylvester Stallonian, "Nick of Time" gives us the classic ordinary man caught up in events beyond his grasp. Depp, a bespectacled accountant, repeatedly tries to get help--from the taxi driver, from the shoeshine man, from the security guards surrounding the governor. But all he finds is an ever-widening web of conspiracy.
Because the movie features a little girl, Sarah's mother, Ruth, thought her daughter might like to see it. As it turned out, some adult language and nerve-racking moments surprised Ruth. "I kept asking her, " Ruth recounted, " 'Are you OK with this?' "
Sarah replied that it's not as if the playground isn't full of swear words already. "I've heard them all," she said. As far as the blood spattering, she added: "It wasn't that violent."
Indeed, by today's action-flick standards, the gore is minimal (there is less, for instance, than in the James Bond thriller "GoldenEye," which is rated PG-13). One fantasy scene shows Depp blowing away the villains, and there is one open-eye close-up of a dead (and extremely still) aide to the governor.
All the viewers, even the Johnny Depp fans, seemed to care most about the little girl who, for the most part, is oblivious to the danger as she is held hostage. To kids, the really scary scenes showed her with a gun to her head and scrambling to escape gunshots.
Anyone suffering from vertigo will get an extra adrenaline rush from the shots of the glass elevator at the Bonaventure Hotel, where the governor is giving speeches.
Sarah thought it was fun to see familiar sights of Los Angeles such as the hotel and Union Station. And kids who have taken Amtrak's San Diegan to Los Angeles should like the opening sequences, as the conductor calls out the names of all the Orange County stops along the way.