By John P. McCarthy
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The dystopia sketched out in the sci-fi thriller "In Time" (Fox) is intriguing and, theoretically at least, more than a little chilling. In the near future, each member of society has been genetically engineered to stop aging when they reach 25, after which they’ll live for only one more year unless they can add more time to their biological clock.
With seconds, minutes, hours and days serving as currency, the wealthy can live forever while the less privileged must hustle to acquire time by any means necessary. An LED display on each person’s forearm reveals how much time remains before they expire. Units of chronology are up- and downloaded via scanners and can be transferred between individuals when they clasp arms in a particular way.
The population is segregated into "time zones" according to how much time citizens have left. Mobility between the zones is severely restricted, and the cost of living is kept artificially high. This economic system pits elites against the majority, and, though the rich also fear accidental death, everyone must be vigilant to avoid being robbed of their most precious resource.
It’s a scenario ripe for exploitation in every sense, and yet a good premise does not a good movie make. More stylish than substantive, "In Time" suffers from artificial execution and a pun-heavy script. Feeding on contemporary dissatisfaction with the world economic system, it offers a morally praiseworthy response to the challenges it imagines — but can’t shake an absurdly glossy, unreal air.
"In Time" plays like a magazine fashion spread with a social conscience. Think H.G. Wells meets designer-turned-director Tom Ford.
Writer-director Andrew Niccol, who penned the script for "The Truman Show," dwells on surfaces and tries to distract viewers from analyzing the details of his premise by sprinkling in dialogue that demonizes Darwin and evolutionary theory. Overall, the effort amounts to slick posing and doesn’t have much emotional or intellectual heft.
Justin Timberlake plays hero Will Salas, a factory worker in a ghetto sector called Dayton, located east of downtown Los Angeles, where the have-nots scrounge for minutes to stay alive. After protecting a wealthy stranger from thugs, Will receives a gift of time and, suddenly flush, makes his way into the precinct of New Greenwich where he encounters mogul Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) and his daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried).
Suspected of murder and guilty of disrupting the economic balance, Will is pursued by the de facto police in the person of a "Timekeeper" named Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy). Eluding capture by kidnapping Sylvia, Will returns to Dayton and the fugitive pair launches a crime spree aimed at redistributing wealth.
"In Time" has its heart in the right place, that is, on the side of those seemingly unable to change a system that takes advantage of them (in contemporary parlance, on the side of the 99 percent). It should be lauded for championing an altruistic hero who puts the notion of charity and philanthropy into action, albeit with a Robin Hood twist.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to shake the idea that "In Time" is just an excuse for Hollywood to make a film in which no one over the age of 30 need be cast.
The film contains nongraphic action violence, including gunplay, a suicide, a glimpse of rear female nudity, several nonmarital sexual situations, at least one instance each of profanity and rough language, several crude terms and some innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.