Noted sci-fi author Harlan Ellison is currently suing the makers of In Time including writer/director Andrew Niccol for plagiarising his story Repent Harlequin Said The Ticktock Man. Here’s hoping that the source material is better than the movie as In Time is a shallow, lukewarm sci-fi thriller given slightly more relevance by today’s economic climate.
In a dystopian future, the old adage “time is money” has come true. There are no coins or banknotes. Instead, the population is genetically engineered to stop aging past 25 (like Hollywood without the botox). On the stroke of midnight on your 25th, a massive glowing clock starts ticking away on your arm (apparently this nightmarish world is run byTimex Indiglo): you now have one year to live. The only way to increase your time is to work but everything from bus tickets to a cup of coffee now costs you minutes.
This means that the rich are effectively immortal as long as they don’t meet an untimely end by choking on a varda truffle or tripping over a poor person. But as the film is keen to repeat :”for a few to be immortal, many must die” and in the slums, people are living from day to day, keeling over like bowling pins when their time’s up and cluttering up the streets with their pretty ageless faces.
Thus we meet Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) an every day schmo going about his business and trying to avoid petty thieves called Minutemen (led by Alex Pettyfer). When he’s gifted over a century years by a mysterious stranger, Will decides to move up in the world and leaves his “time zone” to the heady heights of New Greenwich. There he meets Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried – beautiful), the heiress to her father’s vast fortune and uncovers a shadowy conspiracy designed to keep the rich rich and the poor destitute. Soon he’s running for his life as a “Timekeeper” Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), a humourless time cop (not the Jean Claude Van Damme type) dedicated to enforcing the system catches up with him.
It’s an intriguing concept but not one that is fleshed out in any significant detail. The rich are bad and the poor die as the system is rigged. The movie makes a huge mistake in talking about markets and economies which necessarily draws attention to its plot holes. There’s no inherent problem with a suspension of disbelief in any sci-fi movie (after all, that’s what’s being asked of you in the first place) but when In Time constantly throws these logical questions in your path, it’s hard not to scratch your head in confusion, which in turn derails any sort of pace or connection with the characters. Where for instance does the time come from in the first place? What incentive would you have to pay back a loan? What’s all this nonsense crashing the markets?
The old tropes about making the most of the time you’ve got, about not realising what you’ve got till it’s gone are familiar and predictable. What we’re left with is a lightweight Logan’s Run meets Robin Hood as we spend most of the time watching Justin Timberlake run from one location to the next, not really caring if he succeeds or fails and a bit bewilidered as to why anyone is chasing him in the first place. That’s a shame as Timberlake has proved he does have both dramatic (The Social Network) and comedic (Friends With Benefits) flair but Will Salas is such a boring personality vacuum, he’s given little to work with.
There’s a good movie in here somewhere.The idea that everything you do takes time off your life is chilling and adds a new horror and immediacy to everyday life. It’s just a shame that Niccol spends most of the time delivering a sub-standard chase movie which, yes, you guessed it, is a waste of time.