In the near future according to In Time, human beings will be genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 — but then you only have one year left to live. On your 25th birthday, a digital clock emblazoned on your left forearm turns on and starts ticking down. When it reaches zero 365 days later, you drop dead. By simply touching wrists, another person can transfer some of their time to your clock, or your time can be drained from you against your will.
Writer-director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War) never explains why all of humanity agreed to this strange arrangement. Overpopulation? World hunger? But if you can overlook the lack of logic inherent in its central conceit – and that’s a big ask – In Time makes for a fun, stylish piece of speculative sci-fi. The movie, which initially sounded like a rip-off of Logan’s Run, turns out to be a diatribe against the widely loathed 1 percent, who, even in this pop fantasy, still control the large majority of the world’s wealth.
Paper currency has been replaced by minutes (employees are paid with hours added to their clocks) and instead of living paycheck to paycheck, some people live day to day — literally. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), who works in a factory and lives in the ghetto, is 28 and has spent the last three years with only a single day left on his clock, which he replenishes with hard labor.
His mother (Olivia Wilde) has also learned to scrape by constantly replenishing her timer — she’s 50 — but inflation is making survival practically impossible for the working class. The rich — people who have amassed decades or even centuries on their life clocks — keep raising prices on goods and services (a cup of coffee now costs a whopping four minutes), essentially feeding on the poor to keep their posh lifestyles going. Order is kept by police officers, or Timekeepers, whose primary job seems to be to keep the disenfranchised inside their respective zones and discourage them from visiting wealthy neighborhoods. Roving packs of gangs known as Minutemen prey on people with fat clocks, draining them dry like vampires.
Niccol has put so much thought and detail into the film that the hoary nature of the plot — Will kidnaps the daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of a tycoon (Vincent Kartheiser) to try to bring down the system — doesn’t really matter. The story is derivative, but the details are ingenious. Highway toll booths cost a month; phrases like “You got a minute?” or “Don’t waste my time!” are suddenly charged with new meaning. When Will wanders into the time zone of the rich, he is immediately singled out by a waitress for doing everything “a little too fast.” The poor, unlike the rich, are constantly hurrying and looking at their life clocks.
In Time was shot by the great cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, True Grit), who gives the images a dreamy, alluring polish, and the art design favors stark, empty spaces and simple, uncomplicated gadgets (the cars in the movie are particularly cool, simultaneously futuristic yet retro). Timberlake fares better as an action hero than he did as a comedic leading man in Friends with Benefits, and he gets strong support from Seyfried (whose character earns a surprising number of laughs), Cillian Murphy as the relentless Timekeeper on their trail and Alex Pettyfer as a murderous Minuteman. The movie tries to do a little of everything — Niccol even tries something fresh with that old stand-by, the car chase — and it spreads itself too thin. But even though the story wobbles, the world of In Time still fascinates. If nothing else, the film sets a record for the number of scenes in which characters are racing against a ticking clock, and every one of those moments works you up. Seconds have never felt as precious.
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki, Olivia Wilde.
Writer-director: Andrew Niccol.
Producers: Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Andrew Niccol.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 109 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday Oct. 28 at area theaters.