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Out To Lunch

 

Out of Time

Carl Franklin, USA, 2003

Rating: 3.5

 

 

Posted: October 9, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

For the first half of Out of Time, director Carl Franklin (One False Move, Devil in a Blue Dress) quietly stresses small, nuanced signifiers of South Florida atmosphere, grounding the film with an earthy sense of place. Ceiling fans whirl ineffectively against the tropical humidity; the camera almost lingers over a shot of a wooden desk drawer slamming shut (which recalls Ang Lee's similar attempts to add an elemental atmosphere to an already wooden Hulk). And in that first half, he attends to the film's boilerplate-thriller plot with equal care. Heck, make it the first two-thirds: It's not until the film's final length that Franklin's carefully established sense of escalating tension begins to unravel into just another Hollywood product.

As small-town police chief Matt Whitlock, Denzel Washington proves his Oscar win for Training Day was no fluke; he nails the part of a basically decent man whose libido eclipses his better judgment -- as libidos tend to do in thrillers like Body Heat, which Out of Time tries so hard to emulate. When Whitlock hustles to cover up the fact that he's been duped into stealing confiscated drug money by his girlfriend Ann (Sanaa Lathan) and her smoldering husband Chris (an impressive Dean Cain), a former pro football player scraping by as a morgue security guard, Out of Time earns its seat-of-the-pants urgency. Throw in the fact that in the process of being duped, Whitlock becomes the prime suspect in the suspicious "deaths"of Ann and Chris, and you've got a high-stakes race against time agreeably reminiscent of the 1987 Kevin Costner vehicle No Way Out -- and of Franklin's own breakthrough, One False Move.

But where One False Move challenged viewers with its unsettling applications of violence and its surprising revelations, Out of Time backs down. The film buckles in the clinch, falling back too easily on the standard formula suggested in its oh-so-generic title. Will Whitlock clear his name? Will he retrieve the money before the Feds find out it's missing? Will he reconcile with his estranged wife (Eva Mendes, also good and also smoldering), who just happens to be the homicide detective investigating the mysterious "deaths" of Cain and Lathan? Sadly, while Franklin sows seeds of reasonable doubt in the early going, before long the answers are agonizingly clear.

John Billingsley, as the town's medical examiner, exemplifies everything that's wrong with Out of Time: At first, you wonder what he's up to when he goes out of his way to cement Whitlock's alibi. By the final scene, however, he's devolved from an intriguing question mark into the tired role of goofy best friend. As with Billingsley's endearingly oddball Chae, you're predisposed to like this steamy thriller. But as is also the case with Chae, by the time the credits roll you're puzzled by, and disappointed in, the contrived turns Out of Time takes to keep its audience happy and unchallenged.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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