By now, Justin Timberlake, the mousketeer-turned-singer-turned-actor, has impressed in enough supporting roles -- like "Alpha Dog", "Black Snake Moan" and "The Social Network", for instance -- to warrant a shot at becoming a viable Hollywood leading man. His first Big League start is the inept and stupefyingly on-the-nose science fiction romance "In Time".
A teenybopper's "Minority Report", the movie is set in a futuristic world where time is now currency in the form of a digital, luminescent green countdown clock on every individual's arm. At the age of twenty-five, at which point aging ceases, the countdown begins. Rich people can live forever, but the poor are literally working "day to day", earning just enough time to keep themselves alive for weeks, days, or even hours. When your clock hits zero, you drop dead.
In a stroke lifted from genre pioneer "Metropolis", the wealthy live lavishly in gated communities while the poor work to power them in confined industrial ghettos. Timberlake's Will Salas is one of the worker bees, natch. A suicidal billionaire gives him one hundred years before taking a plunge off a bridge. Cillian Murphy's Inspector Javert, a timekeeper named Raymond Leon, is convinced it was murder and begins investigating.
With a century burning a hole in his pocket, Will stumbles into the wealthiest (achem) "timezone" and rubs elbows with "timelender" Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) at a black tie gala. When Leon and his "Matrix-y" Gestapo break down the door, Will takes a hostage, the plutocrat's wide-eyed, bob-cut daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), and runs for it. Eventually, she becomes Maid Marian to his Robin Hood when he starts handing out free time to penniless slumdogs. And later on she's Bonnie to his Clyde -- turns out bank vaults are easily accessible and full of time no one's using.
Whether he realizes it or not, Writer/director Andrew Niccol is sermonizing on the equal distribution of wealth in America. Somehow I don't think the filmmaker is much interested in the dichotomy of rich and poor; he seems more interested in giving audiences a schmaltzy action movie with a unique premise and splashes of immediacy. What he achieves instead is a silly chase and caper flick that's only real weight comes from its self-seriousness.
"In Time" feels lighter than air and still alarmingly melodramatic. And instead of establishing a futuristic world and letting the people exist there naturally, the film's characters are one-note dialogue cannons that live to serve the film's half-inspired premise. They say such risible lines as, "Nobody's got the time for a girlfriend", "My time is as good as anybody's", and "His crime wasn't taking time, but giving it away" with a mock earnestness that permeates the entire film.
Even the world itself lacks imagination. Like some kind of fashion ad with a blue-collar-chic theme and dozens of gorgeous twenty-somethings, I wasn't sure if I was watching a film or flipping through an issue of Vanity Fair. Timberlake and Seyfried both give serviceable enough performances. With such a weakly written script and such unchallenging direction, I don't blame them. Timberlake, specifically, can declare this folly a rough first night on the mound; it's best forgotten. Back to the bullpen with him. Shake it off, man. Start preparing for the next go at genuine movie-stardom.