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In Time

dir: Andrew Niccol
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Oh, World: Stop foisting Justin Timberlake onto us as a lead actor. I know he doesn’t want to record albums anymore, but really, when he’s talking and moving, he’s not really conveying whatever the hell it is that you think he’s conveying.

He’s certainly not an action hero in the making. Where do you think this is, Taiwan? Only in Taiwan, Seoul and possibly Hong Kong do people make a career as treacly pop singers before they make the jump to action superstardom.

And what a film to try to make him the next Jason Statham, eh? A science fiction flick where Timberlake’s character, who’s from the ghetto, don’t you know, tries to upend an unfair system which keeps most of humanity in virtual slavery to Father Time.

Yeah, I know, it’s just like every single other flick that comes out, with Timekeepers instead of cops, and people literally stealing the life left to people off of each other’s arms instead of having Matrix-y type fights, but these chaps have thrown in a completely new spin on the Bonnie and Clyde set-up, so it must be good.

Andrew Niccol, a long time ago, made a flick I liked. It was called Gattacca, and it posited a not-too-distant future where genetic engineering was causing certain changes in society, and few of them were any good. In Time kind-of could be seen as the next extension of that, in that the society depicted in this flick has arisen in its particular way due to genetic engineering leading to virtual immortality.

People are born the usual way, but once they turn 25, a clock starts ticking on their arm, showing the amount of time they have left, being a year. That time is the only currency which exists now, in that people literally work for extra time to be added onto their arms in order to keep living. If someone runs out of time, they die, instantly.

People pay for stuff using that time. A cheap meal could cost a couple of minutes, and a pricey meal could cost a month. They can give each other time by holding hands and transferring it, and some enterprising hoodlums simply jack people for it, killing the people. Theoretically, a person could live for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but how, of course, does someone accumulate that much time? And wouldn’t people get bored after a few hundred years?

A book I read recently, called The Postmortal by Drew Magary, explored the catastrophic unintended consequences of what finding a medical cure for aging could be, with a horribly overpopulated planet filled with people with nothing to live for and immortality with which to enjoy it. That was a wry, intelligent take on the topic.

In Time possibly isn’t that intelligent, but it tries, desperately hard, to be entertaining. And it really doesn’t succeed, because it’s so fucking lazy, but it still has an interesting premise.

Born in the ghetto, where people get paid a bunch of hours for a day’s work, Will (Timberlake), is such a wonderful chap. He works like a dog each day so he can keep his 50-year-old mother (the inhuman looking Olivia Wilde), young, supple and alive. The place where he lives does all the manufacturing, and the residents are at the mercy of distant rich bastards who arbitrarily raise prices and interest rates on time loans in order to ensure that the poor can never accumulate enough time to step away from their machines.

The indigent and hopeless cluster around missions and charities that can dole out a few hours here or there. Will’s not only working to keep himself alive, but dear old mummy as well. Much of the time, he later spells out to the convenient love interest, people like him have but a day left on their clock, which I guess keeps them highly motivated and obedient. Just like a good ghetto should, naturally.

In a local dive bar, he spies a rich motherfucker with hundreds of years on his wrist, who’s cruising for a bruising at the hands of the local crime boss (Alex Pettyfer) and his Minutemen, who just kill people outright for their time. The authorities don’t care as long as he only preys on poor people in the ghetto, but here is a lamb to the slaughter, surely, from the rich part of the world, called New Greenwich. Poor people are kept out of the nice areas by dint of the fact that it costs months to cross the toll gates between zones, so naturally only the wealthy can travel, and that way they don’t have to smell people from the poorer areas of the world.

If you’re thinking this sounds like a thinly-veiled metaphor for capitalism at the best of times, well, I’m not going to argue that it’s at all a subtle premise or construct. The system here is brutal, totalitarian and inhuman, but it works, and I daresay the trains run on time too.

When a random increase in the cost of bus travel leads to a scene comical in its tragedy (being two people running towards each other, but too late, leading one of them to scream “NOOOOOO!!!” at the heavens as they cradle the body of their loved one, Will decides “fuck this whole crazy system” when the years of the rich motherfucker from the bar come into his possession. He resolves to travel to the rich enclave and to take them all down.

How do you do that? You do it, if you’re Justin Timberlake in this goofy movie, by betting large, by knowing your bets, and by kidnapping and then having sex with the daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of the richest man alive. Seyfried has been okay in a few things, terrible in others, but is a complete personality vacuum here. Her only purpose is to wear way too much eye makeup, act at first like a more mindless Hilton sister, and then have a lot of fun as she and Will start robbing time banks.

I guess the rich people of the future never thought of security guards. It somehow is really easy for Blondie and Clod to keep doing what they’re doing, defying and manipulating the powers that be in order to prove how not nice they are, and threatening The Whole System until it’s way too late. Sure, there are people after them, and lots of bad shit comes their way to stretch out the running time, but somehow they find the way to show that the society of the future could only really stratify in such a way if people just blindly accept it without thought or question.

Sure, it’s absurd, but science fiction is always meant to be a reflection of the present, at least when it’s not being entertaining. Is it saying something profound about the current state of the world? Hell no. If it is, it’s not saying anything useful, unless the solution to inequality and such is all of us banding together and stealing from the banks to give to the poor. That’s been happening (minus the giving to the poor bit) for centuries, and I’m not sure if I’m seeing the cracks start to appear in the whole façade of international finance just yet.

Well, at least not for that reason. I think it works better, if at all, just on the action level. There’s a scene towards the end involving both a battle involving time stealing and a shootout at the simultaneously which worked big time, getting a tremendous laugh out of me, and Timberlake somehow managed to carry it off. I can’t really argue as to whether he’s credible as an action hero lead, because it would be absurd to base such an opinion on this flick. There’s too much going on that’s got nothing to do with action, or actual entertainment. And there’s also too many scenes where Seyfried’s rich girl character reeks up the screen.

Still, Timberlake looks, even at his angriest or meanest like a slightly miffed puppy, so it’s a bit of a stretch buying him as some sort of ghetto trained tough nut. I guess it doesn’t really matter, since this isn’t really an ‘acting’ flick, it’s more of a ‘walking around and don’t bump into the scenery’ kind of flick as far as the actors are concerned. His objectives, being revolution and all that, are noble enough, and it’s a horrible system that deserves to fall over, and if you can swallow the strained and hysterical premise, you just might find it an agreeable way to kill a couple of hours.

It’s still pretty silly, though. And it’s hard not to laugh when characters say stuff like “I don’t have time for that”, emphasising the word time with an absurd level of emphasis which I don’t think is meant to make us laugh.

Yet laugh I did. That’s all you can do, with the time we have left, in the face of our own annihilation: laugh, dearies, laugh.

6 ways in which it could have been cool if JT could have busted a few moves from My Girl or Sexxyback in between shootouts out of 10

“For a few immortals to live, many people must die.” – ah, just like what the Vatican preaches – In Time