I admit, I was really hoping In Time would be good.

I wasn’t even thinking of greatness; I was braced for a cheeseball parable. But that parable – about the vast systemic oppression of the many by an elite and hostile few through a system of crushing debt and unfair monetary practices – is relevant and a half, and I was prepared to champion the crap out of any well-executed portion of this social-sci-fi flick.

It’s the “well-executed” part that turned out to be trouble.

Here’s an ad for the film, using the single time-related pun in all of existence that was not actually stated in the film (as I recall, though at some point it just became a blur):

Oh, is THAT how money works? You can earn and spend it? God, am I going to have an awkward conversation later!

The movie maintains this level of subtlety throughout. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Sometimes you just sigh and hope that nobody in the media tries to use this movie to illustrate anything about, say, the Occupy Wall Street movement, because that would just be insulting, because seriously.

1. This movie is about time. Here’s how you know that: because every time-related idiom, figure of speech, and related-vocabulary word is used in this movie one hundred times. Some of it is the usual: when you kill someone by stealing their time, you “clean their clock,” etc. Some of it is not even pretending: “You can do a lot in a day.” “You’re out of time.” “Every minute counts.” Just…you name it, it’s in here. The movie OPENS with the voiceover, “I don’t have time to think about how it happened. I have no time.”

2. If your movie is super high concept, and I decide to see it, I have probably, to some degree, already accepted the concept, you know? “Everyone in the future has a puppy surgically grafted to their chests.” Okay, fine, I promise not to spend a lot of the movie going, “Surgically grafting a puppy to your chest is a weird thing for a person to do.” I will, however, question every piece of outerwear that does not have a dog-head flap in it, or any moment in your movie where a character is like, “Well, now my dog has grown too big for my chest cavity and medical science didn’t allow for that in the many generations we have been living with these grafted puppies, so now it’s too late for me, you go on!” Because that is worldbuilding, and that you need to do. And the higher the concept is, the more work you need to do. (Moon, for example, requires little. Dark City requires more.)

This means that when you tell me in the movie’s opening moments, “I don’t have time to think about how it happened,” you are telling me a lot more than you think you are, and none of it makes me think I am in for some awesome, thoughtful sci-fi.

3. In Time was written and directed by Andrew Niccol. This is his second movie about a dude from the wrong side of the tracks in a classist dystopia who tries to make good by infiltrating the system for his own ends and attracting the attention of a lady out of his league and a cop who’s trying to maintain a status quo he doesn’t quite believe in. The first one was Gattaca, for which I repeatedly go to the mat, because I think it’s really strong, and character-driven, and understated, and stylish. If you like all those things and this theme, maybe just see Gattaca.

4. If you see this movie, this is how it goes: IN A WORLD where time is the only currently and your clock starts at age 25 (no updates on whether you can preload your clock so you can purchase stuff before then) and then you stay 25 until you “time out” and drop dead, and you can buy or sell or give away time via little bloopy boxes or handshakes, Justin Timberlike is a kid from the slums. He lives with his mom (Olivia Wilde), and they semi-accidentally have a hugely Oedipal morning where they make clear that they have crushing debt and are working from day to day (GET IT). He worked overtime to give her some extra hours for her 50th birthday! Then they hug for way longer than a parent and child should hug, and he goes to work at the factory, pressing the bloopy boxes that measure time. (Grafted-puppy moment: There’s a society that is advanced enough to store time in a portable data device, and we still need humans to press these boxes together?)

At a bar that night with his drunk-ass friend, he sees a rich dude about to get jumped by Beastly, and saves him. The incredibly chiseled young man explains that he has soooo long to live and he’s soooooo tired of living, he’s lived 85 years past his 25-year mark, that’s how long he’s lived! How can you even STAND the ennui of BEING ALIVE when you’re so INCALCULABLY OLD and RICH?

He also points out that it’s unfair that so many people suffer with almost nothing while some of them are rich as shit, as Justin looks like he’s just seen Soylent Green for the first time, and that the systemic injustice of a stratified class system has never before occurred to anyone of the lower classes in this entire film ever. (In fairness, it might not have, as everyone in this movie is sort of dim.)

Anyway, Justin wakes up with this guy’s century gifted on his arm, and the guy commits suicide off a bridge just as Justin runs up and is captured by cameras, but he doesn’t seem concerned by this, and is so stoked about his new power that his gives his friend a decade and comes to greet his mom at the bus stop, but she doesn’t show, because she went to the Time-lender branch and didn’t have enough time-money for the bus and so is plowing home in high heels like it’s the last fifty yards of an Olympic High-Heel Relay, but naturally she doesn’t make it because we need Manpain. (Grafted-puppy moment: There is a branch of this moneylender right in the center of town, like, a block from their apartment. Even if you wanted to go pay back some loan and leave yourself with just enough to get home and not any extra even though prices are always going up, why would you go to the branch on the very edge of town when there is a branch one block from your apartment?)

Now that he has guilt from visiting his deadbeat friend and not his mom, Justin vows to get those assholes from the inside! This involves going through a series of “time zone” gates (GET IT) with ever-higher tolls to keep the riffraff out (see, this I buy! I’m fine with this), he reaches what’s essentially the Upper East Side, and gets a room at a hotel, and goes into a casino and wins 600 years off Vincent Kartheiser, who looks like he did not know what the fuck he was doing in this movie but he was just going to smarm the shit out of it anyway.


Actual promo still from this motion picture.

(5. Best line in the whole thing, after Justin ogles Amanda Seyfried for a while: “A strange world, isn’t it? You look at her and wonder – Is she my daughter? My mother? You hope she’s not my wife…”

I am not sure why anyone would feel the need to say this, since this is what the entire world looks like and you would think people in that world are used to it, but I am guessing it has something to do with the fact that, having given in to the ideal of everyone being perpetually sexually attractive, on-screen dynamics broke down rapidly into a huge orgy of youthful cheekbones and they were trying to restore order.)

Justin gets invited to the Kartheiser home, where starlets and supermodels and Ethan Peck from 10 Things I Hate About You are waiting for him, and Amanda Seyfried is REALLY waiting for him, so she can hit on him by lamenting how they all have risk-free lives and don’t you just envy the poor.

(Collective side-eye, and then we may continue.)

Meanwhile, cop Cillian Murphy (doing everything he possibly can with this movie, as always, even though I am beginning to question his choice of movies, because I feel like even though rent is perpetually due for us all, for every Sunshine there’s a The Edge of Love AND a Tron: Legacy AND one of these to sit through with this guy) has decided Justin stole that time, and he tracks him down, and of course Justin gets out with Amanda as his hostage and then they get stranded back in the slums (reachable on the return trip via a single bridge that takes only minutes to cross and is entirely unguarded, apparently), and then they decide that The System is Wrong and they are going to Fight It! So Justin’s plan to bring down the system was to just hang out in Richtown until the cops found him, and then run away, and THEN fight the system because the cops are after him. Just in case you’re keeping up.

Now that they’re hot fugitives, they take breaks from making out to steal increasing amounts of time from rich people and Timelender banks and Robin Hood it until finally they go back to her dad’s house and steal one million years from him and as Cillian Murphy tries to catch them he has a big standoff with them where he admits that he doesn’t like the system but what else can you do, but he forgot to download his per diem of time so he literally just dies in the middle of the standoff and Justin and Amanda take his per diem and run for it, then the entire system breaks down and mass revolution and the world is better the end.

6. There are glimmers of nice moments in here – people can tell you’re not from around here because you eat your food too fast, and rich people don’t have to hurry. Just, every once in a while you think that, when this was initially scrawled on a napkin next to the note SO COOL!, someone had a plan for it. (Also a good moment: At one point Amanda sees Cillian approaching, shouts out a warning to Justin, then remembers she has a gun and just shoots Cillian right in the chest. He’s fine, because he was wearing his Bulletproof Unnecessary Futuristic Uniform Leather Vest, so it’s cool and he’s not even really hurt and the plot resumes the Run, then Make Out pattern for another three hours, but still, it’s always nice when a ladyperson is like, “Hang on, I’m armed! BANG!” instead of just mewling.)

7. On the other hand, Amanda Seyfried runs a lot in this movie. Her first outfit is a Richtown party outfit with five-inch heels. The short dresses change throughout the movie; the five-inch heels never do, and every time they have to run she looks completely surprised by this turn of events, even though for 80% of her screen time they are wanted fugitives actively on the run from the law. I know this is the Rule of Comic Books, but at some point it just gets laughably distracting. (Also, the first sexy outfit she puts on is from his mom’s closet, and it is the outfit she is wearing the first time they bang, and I am just saying that the psychological ramifications of some of this were maybe not really discussed prior to making the film.)

8. Cillian Murphy has a bitchface so masterful, light from the sun takes only three seconds to reach it.

9. Small but noteworthy: even though you can store literally one million years in a little capsule thingee, individuals still store them in huge bank vaults and not small, secure wall safes or anything. No big deal, just saying that’s how this movie rolls. (Grafted Puppies: The Motion Picture.)

10. The thing is, this movie is so disjointed there’s no real wrap-up you can give it. So many subplots appear and vanish like a red shirt in a washing machine that this movie ends up feeling like an early draft of some other, better movie. I mean, at one point it’s heavily noted that Justin’s father was killed by the government for being a revolutionary, but then it turns out he was just giving away some of the time that he won in “time fights” that look like really intense handshakes, but giving away time is how everything in the world is tendered so how did they even know that wasn’t payment for a private debt or something, and even then we’re talking about very few years and yet when Justin receives a hundred years it only shows up as odd because they find a body days later so it’s not like an alarm goes off at the Central Time Bank or anything, and everyone mentions Don’t Make the Mistakes Your Father Did, as if it will pan out, but really it’s just that the very act of charitably giving away time is super suspicious and maybe he was killed or maybe he just died (no one says) and maybe Cillian knew him and maybe not, because it’s not clear, and there’s still that dude down in the Mission giving away time like it is actually literally his job because whenever Justin and Amanda get time they hand it to this dude to distribute and he always does and no one has politically assassinated that dude, so it is all just weird. (Also, not to be a Puppy Grafter, but isn’t the only way to break that system permanently to somehow remove everyone’s timeclock in the world ever? I mean, when your dialogue is things like: “We do what we always do – we follow the time,” I guess I shouldn’t expect the world, but you also tend to tune it out after a while and start wondering how two people with guns manage to change this world entirely by themselves without any sign of an underground resistance movement or anything at any point and then once you start wondering it’s all over.)

It’s a pity, because the parable couldn’t be more timely (GET IT), and Andrew Niccol is clearly capable of good work that’s stylishly shot and well-written and character-driven and moving and thought-provoking, and I would have taken a movie half as good as Gattaca and been more or less content with it. There is nothing wrong with a high-concept sci-fi flick that does not pretend to be more than it is. I was totally down for one of those. But when your high concept relies on creating this complex system your characters break down, I just do not quite understand how this movie is something he made and stepped back from and went, “AWESOME. We are DONE. Justin Timberlake, that was great work when you grabbed the dead body of your hot mom and hiccupped over it repeatedly, that was just ACES work,” you know?