When Andrew Niccol christened “In Time” “‘Gattaca’ revisited,” my head filled with all sorts of fantasies about what a mind-bending concept, beautiful megastar cast, and Niccol’s script could do in 2011. With special effects and high-impact actors, the potential of sci-fi thrillers to suck in the viewer and create an aesthetically interactive experience has grown exponentially. Despite its potential, this sci-fi thriller failed to motivate the profound philosophical reflection that is expected from a Niccol film and disappointingly falls into a formulaic piece of Hollywood entertainment.
“In Time” presents a parallel society in which the currency is time, a neon-green bioluminescent clock that is constantly ticking towards 0000-00-0-00-00-00. A Maserati is five months, a cup of coffee, four minutes. At 25 years old, a person stops aging and the clock begins counting down. This creates a harsh divide between castes where the super-wealthy are essentially immortal and the poor struggles to survive day to day.
Yes, the concept itself is though-provoking, but the movie does not help to spark any deeper individual reflection. The idea and its effect on societal organization are presented explicitly by Justin Timberlake’s suave voice in the first five minutes, preventing the viewer from exploring the idea on his or her own. Where in “Inception,” another modern-era sci-fi flick, it took most of the movie to unravel the concept itself, and then hours afterwards to ponder the idea in context of larger reality, “In Time” made it too easy.
The story traces Will Salas (Timberlake), a poor man who finds himself accused of theft and murder after acquiring over a decade of time. Through a sequence of cliched car chases, he escapes from the ghetto into the slick, bleached-white city of New Greenwich. The set design choices were obvious and unimaginative — Gatsby-style mansions and industrial factories with narrow alleyways — but made the stark divide readily apparent. In New Greenwich, Will inevitably meets love interest Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), who channels a Bond girl with an auburn bob, ultra-stylish fashions and sassy comebacks.
Timberlake dives into uncharted waters playing a character that is, for once, not a direct reincarnation of his own glamorous, hyper-confident persona (think Sean Parker in “The Social Network” and Dylan in “Friends with Benefits.”) He brings pretty boy looks, endless charm and generally poor acting to the role. It was difficult moving past the moment in which Will, cradling his dead, time-expired mother (Olivia Wilde), tilts his head back and screams awkwardly “I’m gonna make them pay,” attempting to convey tortured agony. Whether plagued by synthetic dialogue or his own failed acting, Timberlake is both uncomfortable and unconvincing as an emotional victim. But when seducing his girl, maneuvering a luxury sports car or pointing a shotgun, Timberlake can execute.
The one-dimensionality of his character was matched by that of Seyfried, who conveyed a frosty presence with sultry smirks and a sharp attitude. Similarly, Raymond Leon’s (Cillian Murphy) haunting leers and slowly spoken commands made him a stereotypical, but believable sci-fi villain.
Despite spotty acting, the cast collectively creates exaggerated caricatures that fit into prescribed action flick roles: hero, lover and villain. The actors, assisted by predictable dialogue and simplistic cinematography, permit the viewer to passively sit back and let the film do all the work. Although cinematic heists, impassioned make-out scenes and the pulse-spiking clock countdowns succeeded in entertaining, “In Time” leaves the mind idle, waiting to be engaged and challenged.