Very rarely does a film offer so much potential, yet fall so spectacularly short. This one is screaming for a remake because in so many ways, it very nearly hits the mark but doesn’t.
Sometime in the future, humans are engineered to stop aging at 25. However, there is a catch – you only get one more year. What’s more – that year is your currency. There is no money, but instead people pay and are paid in time.
That’s pretty much all you need to know. Throughout the film, you learn that the world is divided in various geographical zones which cost a lot of time to cross, thus restricting peoples’ movement. You learn that there is a huge divide between the haves and the have-nots (sound familiar?). You get to meet the mysterious “timekeepers” – a strange combination of police, financial regulators, and tax collectors.
Our main character, played by Justin Timberlake (the film’s first major error) lives in a poor area where people live day-to-day (literally) when he meets a man who is from a much wealthier area. That man is over a hundred years old and has plenty of time to spare. Being that rich in the ghetto attracts a lot of unwanted attention, so our main protagonist helps him escape some gangsters. Overnight, while hiding out, the mysterious stranger transfers almost all of his hundred or so years before heading off and jumping from a bridge.
I would like to have strong words with the casting director of this film. Apart from some truly awful “music”, I have nothing against the man as an actor. He played the role of Sean Parker – the founder of Napster very well in The Social Network. He isn’t a very good actor, but like Keanu Reeves, if put in a well-suited role, then he can be made to “work”. This role, sadly, doesn’t work for him. He simply doesn’t have the depth to be a strong leading character, and ironically he doesn’t have the voice either.
But I’m not done. The gorgeous Olivia Wilde shoots herself in the other foot, having been stuck with an awful role in the recent Tron movie (although she was passably good in Cowboys and Aliens), landing the role of Timberlake’s mother (and having a deeper voice than Timberlake, the on-screen combination was amusing). Having seen some of her work in Grey’s Anatomy, I can say that she isn’t a bad actor; but you wouldn’t know it from watching this film. To be fair, her role is minor, her character poorly-developed, and her lines poorly-written. In fact, the only person in the entire film who doesn’t look like a cardboard cutout reading from a teleprompter is Cillian Murphy.
Murphy is the main Timekeeper. If I could remake this film, I would keep him in this role. His nuanced and complex character performance stands in stark contrast to the others. Others who suffer from the unfortunate misdeed of having their real-life personas distracting the audience from their characters.
It is my understanding that this movie was easy to sell to studios, since nobody is over 25. The challenge, I suppose is finding actors in their mid-twenties who could realistically portray characters who are much older – a challenge not often asked of hollywood actors. In casting extras, more care should have been taken to select a diverse cross-section of 25-year-olds, rather than selecting people who are very obviously models and actors. If I was poor and knew that I wouldn’t live far past 26, I probably wouldn’t put a lot of effort into staying healthy. It is also generally true that there exist many 25-year-olds who are ugly, and the absence of these from the film made it even less believable than the poor characterizations had already done.
The writing also falls tragically short. Many themes were explored, but simply weren’t developed enough. Very wealthy people can expect to virtually live forever, save for the possibility of unexpected accidents and homicides. What are the effects of taxes, and inflation in a world where your wealth literally determines your lifespan. What are the implications of recessions? or speculative bubbles? There are also many possibilities for accidentally partnering with grandaunts or uncles, or grand nieces or nephews.
Entire films could be made out of the sci-fi possibilities generated by this world, and it would have been a mistake to try and give all of them thorough treatment in a single film. However, it is not too much to ask that one or two of these ideas is developed properly to lend gravitas to this film. Sadly, after a fairly well-executed and exciting first half hour or so, the film really falls into a world of tired cliches and predictable set pieces. It was like the makers of the film simply stopped trying.
Honestly, it should have had a bigger budget, and some better writing. A few more good actors would have also helped, but I understand the difficulty in getting young, bankable stars who can also act like old people for a sci-fi film. There is endless potential in the world that the initial idea creates. Enough for a series of films, or perhaps a long running TV miniseries.
Great idea, totally underbaked, borderline unwatchable, especially towards the end. Watch it if you’re bored, but don’t pay to watch it.
Two stars out of five.
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