Andrew Niccol's In Time had to have been the easiest green light a movie has ever gotten. Imagine the pitch meeting: "I've got a high concept science fiction movie for you. It's in a future where aging has been cured, so everybody is sexy and young. Not a wrinkle or grey hair to be found! Hot young actors even play the old people!" "Stop right there. This is the easiest to market movie ever. You can start shooting next week." "Well, hold on, I might need a little time to polish the script--" "You. Can. Start. Shooting. Next. Week." "Off I go!"
I'm giving it a bit of a hard time. I actually had fun watching In Time, for all its flaws. Andrew Niccol wrote and directed Gattaca and wrote The Truman Show, which were two of my favorite science fiction films of the 1990's. Though he's never since reached the level of those first two movies, he's still quite good at high concepts and big ideas.
The idea behind In Time is that in a vague, distant future (no year is specified), genetic engineering has found a cure for aging. We are now programmed to stop aging on our 25th birthday, and then you get one year. That year isn't just the time you have left, though, it's also your currency. People buy and sell goods and services with their life. If for any reason, the ticker on your wrist runs out, you drop dead on the spot.
Niccol uses this conceit as a metaphor for the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Our hero is Will Salas, played by Justin Timberlake, who lives in the lower class district (Time Zone) of Dayton (get it? Date-on! HAHAHA). He lives quite literally day to day, and gets by working in a factory. While out drinking with his buddies, he comes across a guy with over 100 years left in his life, and saves him from the "Minute Men", who are kind of a time mafia? They steal people's time. The guy is from the land of the rich, where people can afford to live forever (New Greenwich, which is a ton more clever than Dayton). While hiding from the Minute Men, the guy tells Will all about how there's no reason everybody can't live forever, and the rich just keep raising taxes and the cost of living in order to control the population. Then, while Will is sleeping, he gives him the remainder of his life.
When Will wakes up, his first plan is to take his mom and head up to Greenwich, but when his mom dies on the way to meet him because bus prices just went up, it becomes... personal. He heads to Greenwich on his own, wins another millenium in a poker game, gets chased by Time Keepers (the time police, led by Cillian Murphy), falls in love with and kidnaps a rich man's daughter (Amanda Seyfried). Together they become Chronobonnie and Time Clyde, sort of Robin Hood figures who steal time from the rich and give to the poor.
The story is pretty fun. It lifts elements from a lot of different sources, which is OK if they are put to good use. I personally enjoy movies set in elaborate sci-fi worlds with their own sets of rules, so that aspect was fun for me. In Time's weakness is in the script itself. The dialogue is often pretty bad. Every bad play on words and pun involving time is used. The characters mostly feel pretty stock. They feel more like they're there to serve their purpose in the story than be real people. The class metaphor is forced on us pretty hard and often feels belabored and obvious.
The cast is actually pretty good. I actually like all the young-ish actors in it, and think they all could have done better if their characters had a little more depth. Andrew Niccol wisely put his best actors in the roles of older characters. Cillian Murphy and Vincent Kartheiser give the best performances. Kartheiser does a variation on his Mad Men character when playing Sylvia's father. He definitely sells the weight of old age better than I think Timberlake would have done (and Olivia Wilde, who I never bought as Timberlake's mom). There's one guy I want to point out, one of the Minute Men, who doesn't even have much of a speaking part, but decided it would be awesome if he wore a fedora slightly tilted. I have nothing to say about his performance, I just thought he looked ridiculous. He could be one of Timberlake's backup dancers.
Overall, In Time was a decent piece of cheesy entertainment. I'm not sure if it was worth a trip to the theater for, but we only paid matinee prices, so I can't complain. The fun of the movie is largely in the details of its well-realized world. I just wish they took a couple more passes on that screenplay to make the characters and dialogue a little more well-realized too.