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October 09, 2003

"Out of Time"

Friedrich --

As a big fan of the film version of "Devil in a Blue Dress," I was looking forward to the new Carl Franklin/Denzel Washington collaboration Out of Time. I found "Devil" a delight. It struck me as a nearly-ideal example of Hollywood classicism; its liveliness played off against the beautifully-shaped crime story in a way that enhanced both the funkiness and the elegance, and Denzel's restraint conveyed not just dignity but also fire.

"Out of Time," though, is a juiceless letdown. It's nothing if not professionally engineered, but to what end? Briefly, Denzel's a police chief in the Florida Keys who gets set up, then has to race to prove his innocence. The chases, the twists, the surprises -- all are impressively well-done. And the casting and acting have bounce and life; Denzel even gets to show off some fear and tension that I haven't seen from him before.

So what's missing? It's as though the filmmakers skipped one important step as they developed the movie, the one where they're supposed to ask themselves, Now, why should people keep watching this? With a half-Hitchcock/half-noir story like this one, the usual thing is to press a few buttons with your narrative's central fantasy, and to use the protagonist's journey to expose the audience to some memorable environments and characters -- a sexy bar, a creepy and scary guy, a touching floozy. But the central fantasy here has no wickedness, and what Denzel races through couldn't be more anonymous.

You're left with the cast, with Denzel, with the Florida Keys ... It isn't unpleasant, but it isn't enough either. Maybe this is just me, but crime stories seldom suffer from a little dirtiness; I thought "Wild Things" and even "Palmetto" (laughably absurd in some ways, but likable and sexy too) did great jobs of giving the same ol' story some sassy new heat. "Out of Time," though, is more in the spotless, lifestyle-catalog mode of something like the Ashley Judd hit "Double Jeopardy." (Which, come to think of it, did have a few fresh elements -- the central one being the fantasy of being a wronged woman entitled to not just get revenge, but to get in shape and look good wearing stunning fashions while settling scores.) What's the central fantasy here? The fear of being mistaken for a bad person. Yawnsville. The Denzel character is never morally compromised, at least not seriously; he never comes close to crossing the line.

There's some daring racial jokiness in the movie that a white filmmaker probably wouldn't have risked and that the audience enjoys. (What a relief a lot of people seem to find it to be able to chortle a bit about race.) And the picture does begin with a promising couple of minutes of hot buttered lovin'. But from then on out, the movie succumbs to a color-coordinated, genteel yuppie respectability.

It isn't without interest as filmmaking. Franklin seems to have decided to shoot and edit the story's three acts in different styles, which makes for a semi-interesting if abstract experience for film buffs. But for some reason the picture never works up the kind of crackle that a good genre exercise can sometimes generate. Maybe it's the overpolished proficiency; all those smooth camera moves, and all those peaches, turquoises, and russets. Watching the film is like spending a weekend at an overdesigned, pleasantly upscale chain motel.

I found the picture painless enough, if anything but absorbing. But The Wife went into a torpor within a matter of minutes, and was fast asleep before the picture's first hour was over.



posted by Michael at October 9, 2003


Er, I'd jump in with some comments on the movie but (as a result of your posting) I chose to go to another flick when I went to the movies last night.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 10, 2003 2:45 PM

Yeah? What'd you see?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 10, 2003 3:56 PM

I saw "School of Rock."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 10, 2003 10:25 PM

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