First of all, the genius of this idea in the world of the film is the Midas touch for 20th Century Fox. Just as everyone would love to look twenty-five forever (according to studio and marketing logic), everyone would want to buy a ticket to a movie that isn't infected with those icky old people.
And, of course, the simultaneous simplicity and richness of the premise allows it to start from a single point and expand out in all directions. How can you tell the age of a person? Is that even important to anyone? What effects are there on the world of finance or government? Is there such thing as an acceptance of death, or is this simply considered a shameful bankruptcy?
So generous is the concept that it seems very difficult to fumble the ball in its execution, and yet writer-director Andrew Niccol manages just this.
Our focus is trained on Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a factory worker from the ghetto, who comes into an unexpected time flow after a chance meeting with jaded millionaire Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) for whom life has grown all too long.
Believed to have robbed and killed Henry, Will kidnaps Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of wealthy time loan shark magnate Phillip Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), to avoid arrest by Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), a law-enforcer with an icy personality and a firm ethical sense.
The pair of fugitive Robin Hoods proceed to fight for a time equality for all, eroding the poor's youthful death sentence at the hands of the rich's vice grip on immortality.
While there's no doubt that with the advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the use of the film's premise to emphasize the tragedy of financial inequality is topical (though it was more likely conceived around bailout time), the commentary doesn't penetrate too deeply.
Furthermore, such a focus on the economic angle feels more like a missed opportunity to investigate the concept's more loaded consequences with regard to questions of aging, mortality, and social conventions, which seemed to be taken for granted or employed as subtle jokes rather than mined for their dramatic potential.
Not even the Coen Bros' stalwart Roger Deakins could save the visuals here, with stylized use of colour in the shooting being let down by flaccid art direction, which mistakes bare, unadorned settings for a futuristic feel.
Though he made an impression in last year's “The Social Network,” it becomes clear that role was a case of Mr. Timberlake playing to his strengths. His charm struggles here to carry the film on its shoulders in a character who seems to have been written more dark and brooding than Timberlake is capable of.
Still, despite its shortcomings, the unique sci-fi element plays so strongly in the film that it has an undeniably memorable quality, and will doubtlessly make appearances in high school English and Philosophy classes for years to come.
Most of all, the film, in style and substance if not in quality, recalls Niccol's excellent debut feature “Gattaca,” which leads me to suggest that perhaps you might pick it up on DVD instead, as you may leave “In Time” feeling as if its two hours are time on your life you'd like to get back.