NOW PLAYING: Out of Time

Posted: Monday, October 06, 2003

There's a crucial scene in Denzel Washington's latest thriller, Out of Time, which finds his character, police chief Matt Whitlock, at a moral crossroads. Does he cross the line? Is a good cause good enough to go against everything you've ever believed in? And, while the film claims to address the issue, sadly it simply whitewashes it with typical suspense-flick predictability.

Chief Whitlock serves and protects tiny Banyan Key, a quiet Florida town with a laidback attitude. Whitlock is a good man and a good cop who occasionally has a beer or two while on duty and who is secretly seeing a married woman, the beautiful Anne Harrison. In other words, the little moral questions, the easy ones have never really been an issue for Matt. However, when an opportunity arises to relieve the evidence room of $450,000 in drug money, the issue gets a little stickier. With life saving cancer treatments looming just out of reach for poor Anne, Matt crosses the line, sending his life into a downward spiral of Hitchcockian proportions. What follows is a series of twists and turns, double-crosses and betrayals that will bring Matt face to face not only with his estranged wife, recently made homicide detective, but with his own inner demons as well. Or, at least, that's the movie Out of Time should have been, and could have been.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers opted for typical potboiler stuff instead. On the surface, the above description is fairly accurate, but the movie itself fails to scratch the surface and examine the underlying implications. It's too bad, too, because Denzel Washington is a masterful actor. Even with fairly basic work as this, he elevates every scene he's in. I would have really loved to see him explore the dark side of his character again, as he did so well in Training Day. There is a film, however, that really shines a light on the darkness that people are will to engage in for a supposed "good" cause, Sam Raimi's excellent A Simple Plan, about three best friends who find a bag full of money and how it destroys all their lives.

Out of Time has one major star not listed in the credits, though it's one the director does his level best to highlight. That star is the state of Florida, and it shows itself in beautiful palm trees, gorgeous views of the bay and in the gritty but lively thoroughfares and back streets of the Keys. Florida is a unique state, one with a vocal, sometimes violent conservationist element, despite the fact that it is being developed at unbelievable rates. It has been home to eccentric, colorful characters as diverse as Jimmy Buffett, Dave Barry, and Ernest Hemingway. However, as much as director Carl Franklin, who did a much better job with Denzel in Devil in a Blue Dress, wants to highlight this fascinating state, it's all just window dressing. Much like the moral issues, Franklin never digs beneath the surface of Florida, leaving a dearth of interesting, and memorable, for that matter, characters.

The story, which did have potential, is the most disappointing element of this wholly average film. There are a slew of brilliant novelists who focus, almost exclusively, on the state of Florida. Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, and the aforementioned Dave Barry, are but a few such writers who highlight the state in novel after novel; sometimes gritty, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes both. Out of Time is definitely in this same vein, but it's like the Wal-Mart version, stripped of any sophistication and subtlety, leaving only cheap surface material. For a better caper movie set in Florida, check out Get Shorty with John Travolta, Gene Hackman, and Danny Devito. Or, even better, pick up one of a zillion paperbacks by any of the authors listed above. I guarantee that they're all better than Out of Time.

Time is one of those frustrating movies that is made all the worse by what could have been. All in all it's not a bad movie. There's a modicum of suspense, workable acting, and pretty scenery. And if that's all we want in a movie, fine. But I want to be challenged, if not in every movie I see, at least in the ones that bring it up. Out of Time sets you up for a real moral dilemma, and then drops the ball. What could have been thought provoking turns out to be imminently forgettable, and forgotten is exactly what it will be a month from today. Out of Time? More like Out of Mind. Grade: C+

Out of Time is rated PG-13 for sexuality, language and violence.



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