Time is a lot like water: abundant, necessary for life, and sold to you in bottles by the Coca-Cola company, which has convinced you it is cleaner and tastier than the time that comes out of the tap.
Wait, that hasn't happened yet. I have revealed too much. Pretend I was talking about something different, like seals. What are they barking at? I don't see a lot of mail men in the ocean. No wonder those guys haven't discovered fire.
Well, I dodged that bullet pretty well. Like I was saying, time, like water, just falls right out of the sky. Or anyway, we can all have a lot of it for free. But what if time had to be earned, like oxygen? Wait, I mean, like money? That's the idea behind In Time, an interesting premise the movie immediately squanders in favor of obvious economic symbolism.
In the future, humanity stops aging at 25 -- but each minute of life past that must be earned like cold cash. In the ghettos, workers live literally day-to-day, coming home from the factories with just enough time to make it back to work tomorrow. The rich can live forever.
A chance encounter with a wealthy man presents laborer Justin Timberlake with more than a century on his hands -- and the secret that there's enough time out there for everyone. After Timberlake's mother's time expires, he travels to the richest "time zone" of Los Angeles to bring the whole system crashing down, dogged all the way by time cop Cillian Murphy.
In other words, it's the Communist Manifesto with sweet futuristic cars starring a Robin Hood who's made tens of millions of dollars selling the world music, movies and Janet Jackson's nipples. With the concept of time spent working in exchange for money boiled down to "if you don't keep working, you drop dead," In Time is less of a satire than it is a Marxist hammer repeatedly descending on your bourgeois, organic-lobster-buying skull. It's theoretically the perfect movie for its time and place, given the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests across the country.
And much like that movement, In Time is unlikely to do more than momentarily entertain a few bored passersby while the rich laugh it off and go back to sitting by their pools and clapping their hands, summoning a swarm of illegal immigrants to fight to death for the right to tongue-bathe the contents of the nine-car garage.
Between Gattaca and The Truman Show, writer/director Andrew Niccol has a pretty decent track record with sci-fi dystopias. But In Time has the focus of a three-month-old puppy. Have you ever seen a three-month-old puppy? Probably not, because even now it's out of sight beneath your bed shredding your tax return.
Timberlake's journey is kicked off by an arbitrary encounter with a professional exhibitionist. Once he reaches the rich part of town, his master plan to crash the whole damn system is to gamble, which he's apparently really good at, with that rich guy from Mad Men until Murphy's cops force Timberlake to fight his way to freedom, which he's also really good at. In fact, he's kind of great at everything, which makes it strange that he's so desperately poor.
Unless that's just one more prong of In Time's endlessly barbed satire! No, it isn't. It's just clumsy writing, as is the nonstop time-based sayings like "he timed out" and "I'll clean your clock," which starts out clever before getting so overwhelming you'll have no choice but to declare war on Rolex. At least the visual aesthetic is nice. And the concept, while hamhanded, remains intermittently interesting.
Still, In Time is dull and too conveniently plotted until Timberlake and rich girl Amanda Seyfried go all Bonnie and Clyde on everyone's asses. Then, the energy level skyrockets giddily. For the remaining 20 whole minutes of film. In Time is saying things that need to be said. It's just much too eager to say them, resulting in a movie that sometimes feels more like a lecture than a piece of entertainment.