By Rob Scherf
Now that summer blockbuster season has passed, studios are bringing out their big guns for the upcoming Oscar monsoon. In the next few months, we’re going to see a new Tarantino flick, the conclusions of two of the most high-profile film trilogies in recent memory and what looks to be a halfway-decent samurai movie.
It’s odd then that MGM would choose right now to release a thriller like Out of Time, especially since, despite what the slickly edited trailer may lead you to believe, the film is definitely not a dense and challenging mind game. At best, Out of Time is a playful diversion, the kind of movie you take a friend to for cheap night at a theatre with sticky floors.
Out of Time’s first act uses a remarkable string of cinematic shorthand to paint the broad strokes of its characters: small-town police chief Matthias Whitlock (Denzel Washington), who sports an earring and drinks on the job, has a habit of making night calls to part-time lover Anne Harrison (Sanaa Lathan), who has cancer and is married to wife-beating rent-a-cop Chris Harrison (Dean Cain) who, it seems, has a perverse Faces of Death-style fascination with mortality. Just as Matthias and Anne settle the papers to cut Chris out of Anne’s imminent (and substantial) life insurance payout, both Harrisons turn up dead in a house fire and Whitlock’s ex-wife, federal agent Alex Diaz (Eva Mendez), joins Whitlock in investigating the double murder.
It’s a lot to chew on in the first 20 minutes and director Carl Franklin doesn’t give the audience any time to reflect on what’s been happening onscreen before diving straight into the film’s main thrust. As Diaz gets closer to the Harrisons’ killer, Whitlock, an innocent man, realizes all the evidence points to him, and thus he’s the only one who can find the real criminal.
What follows is a largely plotless set of episodes where Whitlock has precious little time to tamper with a critical piece of evidence (usually a phone call, fax or e-mail) before it reaches the hands of the "real" investigators and wrongly implicates him as a murderer.
The audience sweats it out while Washington engages in some extremely quick thinking, always saving his skin in the nick of time with a MacGyver-esque flash of resourcefulness. These set pieces make up the bulk of Out of Time’s generous running time and, like slasher movies, are enjoyable to watch without actually getting us anywhere.
Of course, many moviegoers would buy tickets for Out of Time based solely on the fact that the always charismatic Washington stars in it. That group would be pleased to know he is in top form here, giving the air of a pedestrian Indiana Jones and perpetually flashing his patented toothy grin. A vividly drawn cast of secondary characters tries desperately to keep up with the veteran actor, but a combination of weak performances and one-dimensional characterizations makes this Denzel’s movie, not that anyone’s complaining.
Sure, Oscar season calls for credibility from actors and dictates movie plots with take-home value, but a light thriller offering cheap thrills, hit-and-miss comic relief, plot twists that are either mind-bendingly predictable or completely random and wholly needless sex scenes that prove Denzel Washington is all man?
It’s a fun concoction worth matinee prices for those who have already seen everything else worth seeing this fall, just remember to load up on the popcorn.