The timing of In Time

Justin Timberlake goes on a Robin Hood adventure with too many moral sledgehammers, and not enough Olivia Wilde.

This weekend almost didn’t see the release of In Time with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried due to legal issues which alleged infringement on Harlan Ellison’s famous short story Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman.

The legal trouble did not delay the film, however, which is actually too bad because it does not live up to its potential or heritage.

In Time is the story of a young man living in a world where ‘time remaining until you die’ is the currency of the world, having completely replaced all other monetary units. That’s about where the sci-fi elements end, as the rest of the movie is a series of over-blown, over-obvious morality tales, disjointed chase scenes and unrealistic fight sequences.

The film’s opening scenes move fast, quickly exposing the audience to the films flimsy morality. The rich are too rich and the poor are just scraping by. The world is unbalanced and unfair.

Enter the hero: a Robin Hood figure with Robin Hood morals.

At first he comes by his gains legally and ethically, but when the Time Keepers (a special police force dealing with time theft) attempt to stop him from further swindling the rich, he goes on a rampage, and turns full thief. He spends most of the rest of the film with only a few seconds left on his clock, which is supposed to generate suspense, I suppose, but instead just makes the audience scratch their head and wonder where all the time is coming from.

Many scenes end up feeling like those all too common time-bomb scenes where the explosives have less than a minute on the display, yet the characters are fine taking a five-minute chase scene or argument or fond embrace.

The protagonist is not a good guy. Stealing from the rich to feed the poor was a romantic idea once upon a time, but we’ve long since grown out of believing such a plan to be correct or even helpful, since the poor then become dependent on a criminal for their livelihoods. Even in the film, he seems to hurt more than he helps, getting several poor people, including his best friend, killed with the time he gave them. 

In the film, even the characters recognize that the plan will never work. They take pains to show that no matter how much he steals for them, the poor will still continue to get poorer, and the rich will continue to make them miserable, but then the solution is that they still haven’t stolen enough. It’s like the film wasn’t sure just which message it wanted to deliver, but it was sure that whatever it was, it would deliver it with a baseball bat.

The film could not even be redeemed by its visuals. The effects and fight scenes were sub-par, and clunky with many of them not even following from one to the next properly. Several time I was forced to wonder if perhaps the projectionist had forgotten to put a few scenes on the roll, until I remembered I was in a digital theater.

The scenery didn’t work for me either. The film was clearly meant to take place hundreds of years in the future, as some of the characters had been living in this system for that long, but nothing about the world was more advanced than our own time. Architecture, automobiles, fashion, etc. was all from today’s real world. The ‘dystopian’ city the story took place in just looked like they had gone to Detroit and replaced all the public signs which mention prices to time instead of dollars.

The technology in the film is inconsistent. Characters are able to transfer money to one another by clasping each other’s wrists and turning them a certain way, but the speed of these transactions accelerates and slows as the plot demands. In one scene, over a hundred years is transferred in a few seconds, then in another, a character is rushing to get a few more months, but there just isn’t enough time. This is all ignoring the clear improbability that the technology would work this way to begin with. 

Olivia Wilde’s performance, as the protagonist’s mother, is fantastic, despite the few minutes she actually spends in the film. Her few scenes are delivered with power and conviction, which are spoiled by Timberlake’s flat depiction. His emotional range fluctuated from scorn to bewilderment a few times, but mostly remains flat and unconvincing. 

Seyfried is a bit better, but can’t get any power or romance into the scenes with Timberlake as a partner. The relationship between the two just doesn’t work for me. I know action film romances are often rushed and incredible, but this one just didn’t go anywhere.

Throughout, I was cheering for the head Time Keeper, played wonderfully by Cillian Murphy. He had the right position throughout the film, and was the most relatable and dynamic character of the lot. I wanted to see more from this character. I wanted the entire film to be about him, but his performance became another victim of the overall lack-luster of the film.

Overall, this film is simply not worth checking out. Perhaps you can watch it on your streaming service of choice when it gets released there, but there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in the theater.