Andrew Niccol returns to the eugenics-fostered class dynamics of Gattaca with In Time, another dystopian sci-fi tale about biologically engineered haves and have-nots. In the near future, everyone is designed in the womb to stop aging and die at 25 unless they can acquire extra time, which has become the global currency and which is displayed for each person on a digital forearm read-out. In this system, the rich can live forever while the poor, who are confined to cordoned-off “time zones,” struggle to make it to the following morning, a minute-to-minute existence that ends for factory worker Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) when a wealthy 100-year-old stranger (Matt Bomer), tired of living, gives Will an additional century and then commits suicide. Framed for the crime and a target of thieves and gangsters because of his new wealth, Will goes on the run—or, rather, he goes on the walk, since running is a dead giveaway that one has little time—to ritzy New Greenwich. There, he does his best James Bond by swindling industry titan Philippe Weis (Mad Men‘s Vincent Kartheiser) at the casino tables and then, upon being hunted by officer Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), takes Philippe’s rebellious daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), hostage and flees for the ghetto, where plans are hatched to upend the unequal social paradigm.
Will and Sylvia thus become Bonnie and Clyde bank robbers—albeit without the sexual dysfunction, as evidenced by Timberlake’s constant hunky shirtlessness—with a healthy dash of Robin Hood thrown in for good measure, as Will remains throughout an altruist who gives away time to a local mission, his deceased best friend’s wife, and a friendly homeless girl. With so little complication to Will, his plan or Philippe’s white-collar villainy, In Time proves a rather mundane proletariat-uprising fable, and one pockmarked by many all-too-convenient developments designed to hurriedly move the plot forward, such as every incident involving a ruthless mobster (Alex Pettyfer). Moreover, Niccol doesn’t quite develop his central conceit adequately. A bit more background on the origins of this genetics-predicated social structure would have better fleshed out his narrative, especially with regard to the confounding reality that—since everyone is physically stuck at 25 years old, as epitomized by a hilariously creepy lineup of Philippe’s mother-in-law, wife, and daughter—people’s romantic and sexual attractions to others must be hopelessly confused by the disconnect between their appearances and age. Still, his direction is generally clean and precise, and, especially during scenes set in Philippe’s gilded home, conveys a sterile opulence that’s evocative enough to make up for the more pedestrian depiction of Will’s slum hometown.
An early, crescendo-ing sequence in which Will and his mother (Olivia Wilde) race toward each other in a desperate attempt to avoid clock expiration smoothly tweaks the traditional lovers-coming-together cliché. Yet too often, In Time coasts by on stolid convention, indulging in us-against-them conflicts free of genuine danger or consequence. There’s a half-formed quality to the story’s political message that creeps into its basic plotting, as with the completely forgettable power-to-the-people legacy of Will’s father. And though her performance takes on a bit more life once her character becomes an empowered revolutionary, the short-coiffed Seyfried is a somewhat dull, cold love interest for these fashion model-sleek proceedings. Timberlake, however, generates enough heat on his own to keep the film moderately enlivened, bringing to his wronged-man role a working-class grit that keeps the performance honest, and yet also a requisite degree of suave badass cockiness to help sell Niccol’s well-staged on-foot and car chases. He can’t elevate what amounts to relatively simplistic, formulaic material, but his headlining turn exhibits sufficient charisma and wit to make In Time a passably diverting action-packed waste of time.