In Time starts out with one of the best sci-fi premises in recent memory, and then does nothing with it. It stars Justin Timberlake as Will Salas, a 28-year-old in a dystopian future where time has replaced money as the world’s standard currency. Everyone on Earth has been genetically engineered so that they stop aging once they turn 25. Sounds pretty good right? There’s a catch.
The catch is that once you turn 25 you’ll only be able to live for one more year, unless you’re able to buy more time. If you can afford to buy more time, theoretically you can live forever, but most of the world lives in a sort of ghetto where they live quite literally from one minute to the next. The hours everyone has left to live are displayed on their arms, ticking and counting away what they have left.
Setting all of this up is a lot of fun and it seems like the movie might even be going somewhere pretty thought-provoking when impoverished Will Salas, who normally never has more than an extra day to live, is gifted with one-hundred years of life by a wealthy one-hundred year old, who of course looks 25, and has lived so long he’s sick of it.
Tormented by the pain this life-based economic system has caused him, Will embarks on a mission to tear it all down, busting into the world of the wealthy. He’s out to steal time from the rich and give it to the poor, and then the movie just sort of lays down.
The first half-hour of In Time is one of the best things I’ve seen this year but once it sets up its world, it’s as if the movie has already spent all of it’s good ideas. Huge swaths of Andrew Niccol’s movie are spent just sort of standing around. Will teams up with a spoiled rich girl eager to rebel against daddy (played by Amanda Seyfried) and they sort of sit there doing nothing. When eventually they do decide to act, the plan they come up with is about as generic as it gets, every bit as ill-concieved and boring as the film’s premise is not.
Niccol gets great performances, particularly from Cillian Murphy as a by the book Timekeeper (their version of a cop), and Justin Timberlake is as reliable and watchable as ever. But that only makes the failure of In Time to do anything all the more frustrating. All the pieces are there. The premise, the cast, even the look of the movie sort of works in a future on a budget sort of way. But they never actually get around to do anything worthwhile with it, beyond some limp chase sequences and a lot of half-thought out moralizing which feels like it was cribbed from some guy who only showed up at Occupy Wall Street because he thought it might be a great way to meet chicks.