If only, if only, if only.… Where to begin with “In Time” — a very “if only” proposition with Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde and countless other young beauties living and dying very fast in this futurist action-thriller. Let’s see: If only the ticking clock were more tightly wound; if only more time were used to develop the romance and relationships; if only dying didn’t seem so easy.
Writer-director Andrew Niccol, a whiz at mind games having written such brain teases as “The Truman Show,” has conjured up yet another clever idea. “In Time” takes place in a future where the aging gene automatically stops at 25, so it’s a world that truly does belong to the “young.” It’s also a world of hurt, because just how long life extends beyond that magic number depends on how much time you can beg, borrow, buy or steal.
Time is money, literally the coin of the realm. And once you hit 25, roughly that point in life when your frontal lobe matures and you totally know how to do your hair, the race begins. Life is bought one day, one hour, even one second at a time. Glow-in-the-dark numbers on your forearm (not-so-subtle echoes of German concentration camp counting) keep track of time left in a second-by-second countdown. Tick, tick, tick.
You can hand over your time with a sort of secret handshake, which is a little too easy and feels like a cheat. Nearly every twist and turn of the plot seems designed to remind of that most fundamental truth — every moment alive puts you one step closer to death. In this new age it’s called “timing out,” a very neat and tidy process — too neat and tidy. So the tension started by all that ticking too quickly drains away.
Scientists may have figured out how to stop aging, but avarice is still a problem, which sets in motion the action. The police police time to make sure no one is getting it illegally, with the main Timekeeper Raymond Leon (played by a steel-jawed Murphy), who we learn is really 50. Don’t you wish. As is Wilde, who plays Rachel Salas, mom to Timberlake’s Will. Did I mention this is science fiction?
There are moguls who are mean and have more time than God, which they bank in banks. Chief among them is a calculatingly evil Philippe Weis (“Mad Men’s” Vincent Kartheiser, well-turned-out here too), with daughter Sylvia (Seyfried) the apple of Daddy’s eye — although whether he loves her or time more will be tested. There are regular bad guys, time thieves called Minutemen, led by Alex Pettyfer, who seems to be getting a little too comfortable in bad-guy roles (“Beastly,” “Tormented”), as Fortis. Meanwhile, inflation is rampant; the class divide is growing ever wider; the world is ripe for an action hero. Cue Timberlake.
“In Time” was supposed to turn Timberlake into a superhero, though given the way he manages a fairly massive pop career with an increasingly impressive acting portfolio (“Social Network” most recently), that may not be necessary. He brings an interesting sensibility to his characters, Will included, that suggest a complex interior that “In Time” never quite reveals. The same goes for Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!,” “Red Riding Hood”), who can do a lot more than use those big eyes and sleek lines.
Shot on location in Los Angeles, the downtown warehouse district subs for the ghetto where most people work and live, with Beverly Hills, Malibu, etc., representing the monied side of things. That might sound like it’s just the modern-day reality, but the production team and veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins (“True Grit,” “The Reader”) have reimagined things in starkly compelling ways. Especially in the ghetto. There, everything is stripped to the essentials, except for the layer of grime that seems to coat everything, including the people. Everyone moves fast (except for the actual movie, which lasts nearly two hours); they are, after all, running out of time.
What’s missing are the kind of moments that actually matter, the ones that are so gripping that you want desperately for time to stop — to savor them, to feel the fear, the passion, the regret. Ah, well … maybe next time.