Mark Reviews Movies

OUT OF TIME

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Carl Franklin

Cast: Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain, John Billingsley

MPAA Rating:  (for sexual content, violence and some language)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 10/3/03


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Out of Time works in a post-modern way that the majority of tongue-in-cheek horror flicks wish they could, and the film succeeds on two very distinct fronts. As the reliable "wrong man" plot unfolds and our hero saves his hide by pushing himself into a corner from which he will eventually be forced to save his hide again and everyone around our hero gets ever so close to finding out everything he's trying to hide, screenwriter David Collard piles on the complications to the point of absurdity, but he manages to elicit suspense by the seeming hopelessness of the scenario. We laugh at each new twist and turn, but we're also fascinated by how the hero will get himself out of each new dilemma. It's a difficult juggling act, and one that works so well that I imagine the humor is accidental and unintended. It's appreciated nevertheless, and gives the film the edge of always wondering if it does or doesn't take itself seriously. Always interesting and sometimes exhilarating, the film unfortunately declines near its finale, with an anticlimax of a climax that reveals nothing extraordinary and resolves everything a bit too easily.

Matt Whitlock (Denzel Washington) is the chief of police of Banyan Key, Florida, a town with a crime rate apparently low enough that allows the chief of police to spend his nights making sure the doors in the area are locked. It also allows him the time to take a call from his old high school sweetheart Ann Merai Harrison (Sanaa Lathan), which leads to some on duty hanky-panky. Ann Merai's husband Chris (Dean Cain) is a former football player who now works security at a local hospital, and he has difficulty controlling his temper. To escape her oppressive home life, she spends weekends with Matt, who's also trying to forget about his split with Alex (Eva Mendes), a homicide detective. On one of their weekends, Matt accompanies Ann Merai to her doctor, who tells her that she is terminally ill with cancer and only has a few months to live. She doesn't have enough money to try any of the experimental treatments that are available, so Matt steals about a half a million dollars that is evidence for a recent drug bust and makes arrangements to run away with Ann Merai. After waiting the entire night for her, Matt discovers that arson destroyed the Harrisons ' home, and two were found.

There's a string of evidence that points to Matt—his affair with Ann Merai, his listing as the benefactor to her million dollar insurance policy, and a witness who saw him prowling around the Harrison house the night of the fire—and the DEA wants the money he stole to start a case. All of this quickly stacks on top of Matt, leading to a series of improvised attempts to keep everyone off his path. We wonder why he simply doesn't confide in his estranged wife, but by this time, we realize there's a bit of ego involved—not to mention that any investigation into his lack of participation in the double homicide would inevitably lead to the disappearance of the pricey evidence. Instead, Matt goes out of his way to cover up his affair and find out what really happened to the money. In one scene, Alex orders Ann Merai's phone records, and he has to edit his name out of the pages while she's standing in the next room. That situation continues to escalate, and Matt is forced to dodge each new development. Later, there's a dizzying struggle while hanging from the balcony of the seventh floor of a hotel, which leads to a frantic stairway chase.

There is a conspiracy plot working behind the proceedings, but with all the trickery on Matt's part, the behind-the-scenes scheming is almost entirely forgotten, except for a single scene that shows the conspirators' new situation and hints at their plan. Many of the plot twists are telegraphed far too early (Chris gives an unnecessarily extended look at a corpse in the morgue), but they're also revealed relatively early. Collard's screenplay stays true to centering on Matt's escapades, and director Carl Franklin tautly executes scene after scene. It's only in the finale that things drastically lose their footing, and even the atmospheric abandoned ship setting feels like a cheap gimmick. There's no surprise in store for those of us who have been paying attention, and the motives of the schemers are too questionable to make any real sense. It's a shame, too, because the film hits so many right notes until then. Take the central scene between Matt and Alex in which they talk about phone calls in their early relationship. It's a sincere exchange that alludes to a tender history between these two characters without forcing it home. After all the lies and cover-ups, the scene is refreshingly honest.

Denzel Washington brings that kind of honesty to his performance as well. He's one of those compulsively watchable actors who gains sympathy from an audience simply by appearing on screen. That's one of the keys of a "wrong man" film, and something that Out of Time gains a lot from having. At one point, he's asked why he's gone to all this trouble, and his response is simply, "I'm stupid." That's pretty easy to identify with, wouldn't you agree?

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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