Saturday, October 29, 2011

In Time

Did you know that the standard of living in this country has been on a pretty steady nosedive since the early 50s?  You really don't notice it because of all our shiny new doo-dads and snarflats, like Nintendo DSs, blogs, and Japanese porn.  But once upon a time you could have a whole house - with a backyard, a new model car every year, and all the other cliches of the American Dream on a single man's income.  Heck, even with just a high school education you could have plenty of casserole every week.  Then things changed, we needed both the man and woman's income to fulfill all the bullet points of a nuclear family.  Then things got even worse, and well... look around you.  Are you ready to enjoy the fun times when we have a lower standard of living than our parents?  I personally am getting nicely acquainted with large boxes of Maruchan Raman Noodles.  Maybe I'll start "Water-Only Wednesdays", where you don't eat at all and instead subsist entirely on delicious government-issue water.  And you know, you really only need one kidney, right?

"In Time" is the most blatantly shameless SciFi metaphor for class warfare I think I've ever seen in a theatre.  There are a lots of movies that have subtle political messages, and lots of movies with political messages so subtle that they might as well have the Seal of the Republican Party on their cover.  "In Time" somehow manages to get even worse than that, by being needlessly preachy and actually really dull for a SciFi Thriller.  Okay, movie, I get it, the rich people suck, fine, can we move on?  How did Occupy Wall Street make a propaganda film so fast?  Actually scratch that last sentence, if I were the Mysterious Lords of Occupy Wall Street, I'd be pissed about this movie, since it turns their political message into a big silly Robin Hood adventure.  Worse, its a Robin Hood adventure that isn't very fun.

Once upon a time, director Andrew Niccol made "Gattaca", a smart clever SciFi film with a great concept and real heart.  It was a fantastic movie, you need to watch it now.  But since then, he's only made two movies, one of which was "Simone", a movie mostly forgotten because it sucked, and the other being "Lord of War", a movie mostly forgotten because... I have no idea, that movie was pretty good actually.  Anyway, nothing really replicated the underground success of "Gattaca", Niccol must have known that he had thrown away his most creative ideas into a single movie, and now he had to live a sad life running out his clock while his life's artistic climax was behind him.  So what do you do now?  Oh, remake "Gattaca", that's what.  But change the premise from eugentics to a ball of timey wimey wibbly wobbly stuff.  "In Time" really is a pathetic retread "Gattaca", and instead of a second helping of an excellent meal, its just the ten-year-old leftovers of Andrew Niccol's mind that's been sitting in the back of the fridge.  You can't microwave genius back to form, instead you end up with this, nothing.

Last night I had a difficult choice to make:  "In Time" or "The Rum Diary".  Would I rather eat off the recooked plates of "Gattaca" or "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"?  Obviously "Fear and Loathing in Puerto Rico" would require an extremely altered state of mind in order to properly enjoy.  And "In Time" had no demands.  I walked into the theatre completely sober and left only with the giddy high of watching a shitty movie and whatever mind-warping effects the sythetic "butter flavoring" my popcorn bag was oozing.  However, no matter what sort of things had happened to my mind, none of them were as interesting as to cause me to love this movie.  There was something in that theatre, I'm sure, because everybody else applauded grandly, a reaction I haven't seen since "Inception".  I drove home without incident, tipped a friendly gas station attendant an extra buck for wiping my windows, and sat home finding things to do other than write this review.  So I guess all-in-all, I picked the wrong movie.  If you really wanted to see me review this movie, thank your local divinity that I was out of beer.

Now as for "In Time" itself, I really cannot review this movie without pointing out the complete genius that is "Gattaca".  In perfect classic SciFi style, Niccol imagined our world with a single new fantastic element, that of eugenics creating a race of supermen, and then went out to write a beautiful story around it.  Even outside of the fascinating premise and beautiful mixture of 60s modernist architecture with really awesome suits, this is a movie about a man going for his dream.  Ethan Hawk's character is the most imperfect man on Earth, filled with genetic faults of all kinds.  Yet he wants to go to space, a realm reserved only for the upper caste of designer-Demigods.  To live his dream, Ethan Hawk breaks every law of society, pretends to be somebody he's not, Jude Law.  And through insane work, years of labor mastering his role and pushing his mind and body to the breaking point, Ethan Hawk flies off to the stars.  Its a simple inspiring story, "Rudy" with syringes.  The more I think about that movie, the better it comes out in my mind - there is so much to love with a film like that.

"In Time" has none of that heart.  This should be obvious just by explaining the premise.  It took me five minutes to explain the trailers to my friends, and we mocked the movie the whole time.  Okay, so its the Future, and human beings are now designed to stop aging at twenty-five.  But for some poorly-explained reason, people only get one year of life after it.  So essentially they can barter their time like a commodity.  This means that the rich fatcats gets to live for eons in fancy mansions, while the curiously mostly-White poor people get to live in the slums and barely eek on a living with just a day to their name.  I'll even explain a few details the movie doesn't explain, just to make things easier:  you can transfer time by grabbing another person's wrist*.  Oh, and the rich people rule the world, there doesn't seem to be a government or anything.

Since everybody in this movie has to be twenty-five, that means that every single person in this movie is played by some sort of "beautiful person".  We got Justin Timberlake as the hero, Dr. Thirteen as his mom, the UN-fucking-believably-hot Amanda Seyfried as the main heroine, and Cillian Murphy as the Inspector Javert villain. Its a bit unnerving seeing Thirteen playing a role that naturally should be played by a fifty-year-old actress, but that's part of this movie's most interesting portion.  But they never really did all that much with the concept of eternal youth, its just another segment of this film's bloating premise.  Niccol even beats you over the head with the more clever ideas, having one character comment if Seyfried is "my mom, my wife, my daughter?"  Then just a scene later, you see his mom, his wife, and his daughter together, all the same age.  You didn't need to point this out!  The imagery speaks for itself!!

What happens in "In Time" is that Justin Timberlake lives in the slums, hating life.  Then he meets Neal Caffrey from "White Collar", one of the great Time Lords with over a century in his wrist.  Neal Caffrey has gotten bored of the conman life, so he gives Justin Timberlake his time, and jumps off a bridge - but only before bluntly telling the audience of the entire class warfare theme.  So then Justin takes N'SYNC to the rich people by moving up in the world.  He winds up joining with Amanda Seyfried, the daughter of the richest dude on Earth, and goes on a wild crime spree giving time to the poor folk.  All while Cillian Murphy pursues him as the most incompetent police chance ever.  And this continues until finally the film gets tired of itself and just sorta starts the climax for no particular reason.

Here's the big problem with this plot:  it has no urgency.  This is amazing for a movie where all the characters are literally counting down to death, but its true.  How hilarious is it that a movie about time has huge pacing issues?  That's just delicious.  For the first hour the movie moves with a pretty decent speed, getting Justin Timberlake and Seyfried together to make an extremely beautiful Micky and Malorie Knox.  But then they go on their crime spree, and Niccol completely loses his own plot, never to find it again.  Since they both have plenty of time other than a short section in the middle, the only tension comes from "will Cillian Murphy find them?"  Well, the answer is 'no', so there's no tension there either.  I have no idea how long this movie actually was, it could have been an hour and a half, it could have been six weeks, I might have been born in that theatre, who knows?

Here's the big problem with this plot:  Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried don't particularly work well together.  Yeah, they're sure both hot, I'll admit that, but they don't really get much chemistry until basically the last half.  It isn't until the rich dude's daughter suddenly shifts to wild bank robber that they seem to fit, before that its all really forced.  And even then, there's only one true moment in this film, and that's when Amanda Seyfried starts getting a little insanely trigger happy.  Its also the only funny moment.  I mean, damn, when Amanda goes outlaw, she doesn't hold back for nothing.  Before she just bored at home, but soon enough she's knocking over her father's banks.  Hell, at the end she watches Timberlake get with two strokes of killing her dad, and doesn't flinch.  Holy Shit.

Here's the big problem with this plot:  the villains are idiots.  Cillian Murphy was probably my favorite character in this movie, really only for being Cillian Murphy.  But God, he was fucking dumb.  Like, how hard is it to find two fugitives when the entire world is being video taped?  The cops don't even carry walkie-talkies, so when the duo escape on a bus, Cillian gives up and goes home to work on his nightmare serum or whatever he does.  Amanda Seyfried's dad doesn't ever seem to think of... you know, hiring security guards at his banks.  Or doing anything proactive at all but put up a ridiculous bounty.  The oppressive government apparently can't track time like we track dollars, so its a criminal free for all.  I'm still not clear who runs this universe, if its the big bad banker or Cillian Murphy or some government, nobody ever explains it.  But all these people in charge are the dumbest bunch of idiots I have ever seen.  Even the gangsters are morons, because the lead gangster catches Justin Timberlake to steal his time, and for some idiotic reason challenges him to a fair fight to the death.  WHY?  WHY????  Guess what, he loses, dumbass. 

And that's not the worst death either.  Cillian Murphy finally catches Justin Timberlake at the end, because a broken clock is right at least twice a day, I guess, but let me tell you what happens next.  Its so hilarious.  So Murphy could have gotten his daily payment of time, but he decided against it with forty minutes left to live.  It would have taken two seconds to get new time, but no, he's that dumb.  And he chases the heroes until he has them at gunpoint.  He's about to kill them but then he basically says "oh shit, should have gotten more time, I'm a moron" and drops dead.  YOU ARE AN IDIOT.  LITERALLY TOO DUMB TO LIVE.  Inspector Javert at least got the chance to off himself in a kind of redemption, Cillian Murphy just dies because the villain has to for a movie to end.

Here's the big problem with this plot:  the economics of this make no sense.  I'm not economist, but it seems to me that perhaps one should have been consulted at some point during this movie.  Even Karl Marx is spinning in his grave over this one.  How can a currency function if its constantly seeping downward?  Your savings are endlessly devaluing themselves!  The only way I see currency entering the economy is with new people turning twenty-five, putting another year into the system.  So in order for society to function, everybody has to have lots and lots of babies who will give up their years just to keep everybody ticking.  Yeah, lots of people die, but not nearly in high enough numbers for this movie to work.  (Of course, all calculations are really pointless because the movie can never seem to decide how much time is worth, coffee is apparently five minutes, but a bus ride is two hours?  A hotel room is two months?  Huh?)  Justin Timberlake is twenty-eight in this movie, meaning that he's already living on the lives of at least two whole other people, Doctor Thirteen is fifty, that's twenty-four other people.  Where is all this time coming from?  The movie babbles about "markets", as if a sophisticated capitalist economy could exist at all when, as I pointed out, time is always disappearing.  Time is such an abstract currency anyway, why don't they just make more?  I can see wanting to stop overpopulation, but at least "Logan's Run" gave us till thirty.  Oh also, if you die for real, all your time simply ceases to exist, so huge amounts of currency can be destroyed in a gun fight.  The movie tries to explain the world economy with a big shiny map showing zones turning red, as if that means anything at all.  How do people pay taxes?  Do they pay taxes?  Why would they want to raise kids if the massive investment means potential losses in years of life for virtually no return?  And remember, no kids means no new time, so everybody dies.  Worst of all, this movie says the rich "stole" their time, just flat stole it.  The poor deserve the money because the rich rigged the system.  I won't get into a huge thing here, because I don't want to come off as a Wall Street Journal Opinions Page writer, but I'll tell you that's wrong if you want to apply that to the real world, okay**?  Even beyond real-world implications, it makes little sense in this movie anyway, because even if everybody's time is made equal, that means everybody would die automatically at twenty-six, minus the months lost thanks to the cost of living expenses.  THIS IS STUPID.

Here's the big problem with this plot:  its a mess.  The movie makes a big deal about "fighting".  Neal Caffrey is challenged to a fight early on.  I assumed it was just boxing or something, but turns out there's this big weird arm wrestling game.  Basically you steal each other's time until one of you dies.  This is not explained for at least an hour into this movie.  It makes no sense.  Then they make a big screaming deal about Justin Timberlake's father, he was a fighter, but um... who the fuck is he?  Cillian Murphy mentions Timberlake's father at least ten times, so I assumed he might actually be the dad, but no.  It wasn't Neal Caffrey either, at least I don't think.  They never explain it!  What the Hell?  Everybody is always talking about how the poor need to stay poor in order for the system to be stable.  What system?  There is no system!  The bad guys represent nothing, they have no justification of any kind.  There isn't even really a justice system.  Maybe this is why "In Time" has even dumber villains than "Atlas Shrugged".  And every woman in "In Time" runs with high heels on.  What is Andrew Niccol telling me there?  Are they whores?  Its a mess.

Oh, speaking of messes, the car crash scene is one of the worst car crashes I've ever seen.  I thought Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried were dolls inside a toy car at first.  That was a good laugh.

Did I mention the time puns yet?  Because we need to talk about the puns.  "In Time" might not even really be a movie at all, its just some kind of weird bet where Andrew Niccol tried to stick as many time puns as he could in a so-called serious movie.  The cops are called "timekeepers", the gangsters are "minutemen", the banks are "timeshares", you can wire money through "timelines", the towns are all called "time zones", the rich people live in "New Greenwich".  Movie, you cannot be serious with this... Can you?  I was laughing the entire time at this crap.

But you know what, all that doesn't matter.  This movie could have had all the things I mentioned and more wrong with it, and it could have still been great.  But you know what?  Its no fun.  The fight scenes are lame, the car chase is pathetic.  There's hardly any humor, and only one funny scene.  Most the imagery from the cars to the suits are stolen almost directly from "Gattaca", but this movie has the same sickly blue and orange color pallet of some many modern films, making it far worse.  The main characters are dull, nobody seems to really care acting-wise.  Justin Timberlake is a better actor than this, at least I thought he was.  But he seemed to really want to give us the strong impression that Neil Caffrey should have been cast as the main hero.  Honestly, only the Big Bad CEO managed to bring out anything resembling a brilliant multilayered performance.  Even Cillian Murphy seems to be phoning it in, playing the same guy from "Inception" and "Tron: Legacy", his only interesting character trait was a weird obsession with chewing gum in every scene.  Speaking of "Tron: Legacy", that was a movie with at least as many issues, yet I still loved it. Why?  Because the action was good, Jeff Bridges actually seemed to care, and the movie was gorgeous!  And Daft Punk, can't forget them?  "In Time" is lazy, its sloppy, its ugly.  Who cares?

Well, if I needed to give one reason to see this:  Amanda Seyfried goes skinny dipping.  That's all.  I don't need much more than that.  Even with the PG-13 rating covering up some of her best parts, its naked Amanda Seyfried.  Have you noticed how friggin' hot she is?  That red wig make me go crazy too.  Its like a primal reaction, completely devoid from rational thought.  Damn.  Just damn.

"In Time" sucks.  But it wasn't so mediocre as to be completely forgettable, I guess.  It sucked just enough to be entertaining, like "Red Riding Hood" from earlier this year.  So I guess if you want brainless entertainment and Amanda Seyfried, here you go.  Actually, forget that.  Rent "Gattaca".  You're doing yourself a favor.

* Which turns out to be a really stupid design choice, because people can just steal your time with a firm handshake.  Nobody ever wears a wrist-guard or cuffs or anything, they just walk around with their precious life essence out for the taking.

** Here's the thing about that:  the rich people of this country actually did earn their money.  You can argue about unequal opportunities and whatever, but its nothing like this movie where the rich literally price gouge the poor to death.  Since when was capitalism this desperate Darwinian struggle to steal all you can from the other classes?  Occupy Wall Street has never asked for the rich to fork over their money directly, at least.  If you just emptied Warren Buffet's pockets and gave it all to the population of Flint, Michigan, do you actually think the economy would get any better?  Also, "In Time" seems to assume that rich people can just decide the prices can be whatever they want, at any point.  Why don't the poor people just brew their own coffee and sell it at a reasonable rate?  What government system exists in this movie at all??  Please, don't take any lessons from this friggin' movie, don't buy into the Justin Timberlake Theory of wealth distribution:  just steal form the rich and give it to the poor.  You're asking for a communist dictatorship at that point, where anybody's property can be arbitrarily seized because other people "need it".  So don't come crying to me if you make it happen in this country and watch your loved ones die of starvation in bread lines, I'll be safely in China at that point.  So "In Time" isn't just economically stupid, its profoundly economically stupid.  Probably the dumbest movie ever made on that account, I think.


  1. "A ball of timey wimey wibbly wobbly stuff" Are you a Doctor Who fan, Blue?

  2. he says "The Doctor" often in this review, of course he is.

  3. I was entertaining the idea that I must've blacked out and written this article because you eloquently enumerated every gripe I had about the movie.