Gattaca director Andrew Niccol's sense of the zeitgeist is on the money with In Time, a sci-fi parable that plays like Occupy Wall Street: The Movie.
Its action beats and story arc are not conventional, but this startling commentary on a world of haves and those-we'll-keep-from-having touches on the greatest sci-fi trope of all: dystopia, how the future looks because of the things we do wrong today.
Justin Timberlake is Will Salas, who will be 25 to the end of his days. Or hours. In this future, people stop aging at 25. Then, unless they can buy, borrow or steal time from another, they die. "I don't have time" has a new meaning to the working poor. They sprint, breathlessly, from home to work to date night and constantly stare at the luminescent digits counting down on their arm. Time, for all of them, is running out.
The gangs ruling the place are "Minutemen," thieves who steal from others, kill at will and drive cool retro cars. Portis, given a nicely petulant taste by Alex Pettyfer, is the leader.
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The rich, barricaded in fortress "time zones," stockpile years, live spectacularly well and spectacularly long. But they fear the one thing that can get them: accidental death.
An act of kindness earns Will time — enough of it to change time zones. He goes undercover and resolves to live it up and take the rich "for everything they've got." That's where he gambles with the rich guy (Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser), meets the rich man's stunning, rebellious daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), and runs afoul of the timekeepers, led by the obsessed Javert-like maintainer of the status quo, Ray Leon (Cillian Murphy, terrific).
Timberlake is more adequate than epic as a leading man, and Seyfried, in a red bob, impossibly high heels and provocatively short skirts, still seems an innocent young thing playing at being bad. But she's good at suggesting a woman bored with a life where she doesn't dare to even take a dip in the ocean behind the mansion she grew up in. (A girl could drown.)
Writer-director Niccol covers the same ground as the most recent Spy Kids movie without tumbling into silliness. But In Time has its silly side, its eye-rolling moments mixed with the pungent observations about modern society. The poor are sentenced to poverty, and the hint that even one of them might escape enrages the system. What do the rich enjoy if not the luxury of leisure — servants to handle mundane tasks, travel expedited, lives lengthened by a system stacked in their favor?
But In Time is more a potentially great parable than a particularly good one. The earliest scenes, in which Will meets a rich man tired of his excess years, are preachy. When Will and Sylvia go on the lam, the film gets a needed jolt of adrenalin. It's a pity Niccol's script doesn't give them anywhere to go. Even with its thoughtful nods to Bonnie and Clyde and Les Misérables, In Time never delivers that transcendent Blade Runner moment, and never rises above cult classic to simple classic.