Out of patience for Out of Time

Oct. 13, 2003, midnight | By Sherri Geng | 17 years, 3 months ago

Out of Time is like a daytime soap gone painfully awry, a convoluted hybrid of psychological thriller twists meets Days of Our Lives melodrama that pushes the envelope in logic and wobbles erratically between classic film noir and outrageous Soap Opera Central.

Set in the sleepy beachside burg of Banyan Keys, Florida, Out of Time begins as a slow-moving drama that accumulates predictability and ludicrous complexity as it progresses, all with the speed of a snowball plunging down a steep hill and the finesse of a bird careening headfirst into a brick wall.

Take one small-town police chief (Denzel Washington) and one homicide detective (Eva Mendez); throw in a messy marriage, an even messier divorce, a puckishly Machiavellian medical examiner (John Billingsley), a slew of bad luck, a string of impossible timing and a seductive high school sweetheart (Sanaa Lathan) with an abusive loser drunk husband (Dean Cain).

Oh, what tangled webs we weave.

Police chief Matt Lee Whitlock (Washington) is still reeling from his recent split with detective wife Alex Diaz-Whitlock (Mendez) when he lurches into a torrid affair with old high school sweetheart Anne Merai (Lathan). But, as always, there is a catch – his vulnerable old flame is trapped in an abusive marriage to resentful and hyper-protective ex-NFL player Chris Harrison (Cain), with whom Matt has shared a longtime hostility.

Merai's terminal cancer takes a turn for the worse when her doctor pronounces the illness back in full swing. Her only chance of survival lies in an expensive treatment process in Switzerland for which she lacks the means to go. Faced with a nasty decision, Matt starts to eye a healthy sum of confiscated drug-bust money sitting in the department's evidence safe. True to form, he surprises no one by stealing (but it's not really stealing, because it's for a good cause, right?) $480,000 to provide for Merai's salvation treatment.

Before you can say "stupid," the money disappears and two bodies turn up burnt to a crisp with all evidence pointing to Matt as the prime suspect. To add to the confusion, Matt's estranged wife Alex is assigned to the case, prompting Washington to play the "I am watching my life flash before my eyes" act for the remainder of the film.

The audience cringes along tirelessly with Matt as he struggles to keep one step ahead of his colleagues while plunging deeper into his own web of panic and deceit. Horrified and seeking to unravel the mystery for himself, Matt draws the audience into a world steeped in suspense and almost lost in the wild number of twists and turns.

In Out of Time, director Carl Franklin returns from Devil in a Blue Dress and more recently, High Crimes, with commendable skill, bringing tightly woven direction to a script that lacks both originality and plausibility. The action sequences are gripping and taut, albeit a bit over the top, with intense drama scenes interspersed throughout like Oreo chunks in cookie dough.

However, the real kudos belongs to the cast, whose strong performances attempt to breathe life into the predictable storyline. Seasoned actor and Oscar-winner Washington delivers a compelling and charismatic performance as the well-meaning small-town sheriff thrust neck-deep into a Very Bad Situation. He plays his emotions well on his sleeve, leaving just enough uncovered to lend credibility to his character. Mendez gives a convincing performance as shrewd and high-powered Alex, marking the second time she has played Washington's wife in a film. (Training Day was the first.)

John Billingsley, one of the film's finest assets, is delightfully witty as Chae, the Banyan Keys medical examiner who serves as Matt's partner in crime. Billingsley breathes the much-needed comic relief into a film saturated with suspense, speckling amusement with quips like, "Would you give me [money] too if I slept with you?"

With Franklin behind the camera and Washington and Billingsley in front, you could almost forgive the formulaic premise and equally formulaic finale. Almost, but alas, not entirely.

Regrettably, Out of Time's strong performances and concrete directorial edge fail to surpass the hackneyed theme and multitude of improbabilities, rendering it fated to be lost among the shuffle of new dramatic thrillers good for only a rental and perhaps a quick Denzel Washington fix.

Out of Time is rated PG-13 for sexual content, violence and some language.

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Sherri Geng. Sherri Geng is a senior in the Magnet and SUPER excited for what promises to be another excellent year of Silver Chips! She has insane love for chocolate, sleep, funny people, and her big fat lovable dog Teddy, who is the smartest and most perfect … More »

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