**½/**** Image B Sound B Extras B
starring Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain
screenplay by Dave Collard
directed by Carl Franklin
by Walter Chaw If Carl Franklin were going to reunite with Denzel Washington, I wish he would've just made a follow-up to their exceptional adaptation of Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress--and while we're taking a stroll through fantasyland, I really wish that Franklin would make another film the equal of his astonishing One False Move. Not to say that Out of Time is a bad film (given the fatigue of the premise, it's a remarkably good film), just to say that it's only good enough to remind (unlike Franklin's excrescent High Crimes) of the kind of filmmaker that Franklin has been and, hope springing eternal, could be again. What translates well is a sense of breezy professionalism in a preposterous film put together so well that it gives the illusion of being entirely effortless and occasionally great. Out of Time reminds of the superior Confidence in the same way that Franklin reminds of James Foley: they're genuinely gifted neo-noir directors at the top of the game when they're at the top of their games, but too often given to undertaking projects of convenience. For Franklin, Out of Time is something like a return to form but more like a skilled director trying hard to find his way back to the true path.
Matt Whitlock (Washington) is the Sheriff Andy of a lazy backwater in the Sunshine State: smooth with the ladies, tough-lovin' with the criminals. A shame, then, that his lady of choice is Ann (Sanaa Lathan), the wife of unbalanced ex-cop Chris (Dean Cain), and that when Ann is blown up in a suspicious explosion, Matt becomes suspect number one in a No Way Out cat-and-mouse. Two things complicate matters: first, Matt's ex-wife Alex (Eva Mendes) is the officer in charge of the investigation, and second, Matt discovers that someone may actually be trying to frame him for murder.
At the two-thirds mark of the film, Matt is asked to make his way through a hotel under an assumed identity that is forever on the cusp of being debunked by a key eyewitness. The choreography is almost Marx Brothers in its complexity and delight, the tension genuine in a way that recalls the best in the genre (the heist in The Killing, the split-screen corpse manipulation in Sisters). Its middle is a beautiful, visceral fight sequence on a teetering balcony, while its conclusion, the perfect foil, is a gag that incorporates the character's resourcefulness and, slyly, Washington's own charm and presence. More than anything, this one sequence in Out of Time stands as monument to the kind of pure, adrenalized cinema--a tap dance with weight--of which Franklin is capable. The rest of Out of Time, all weak dialogue and lazy plotting (an outstanding bit involving an important fax notwithstanding), is indicative of the kind of fearful cinema of which Franklin has lately been guilty.
Out of Time is handsome and consistently enjoyable even when its opening act drags on several beats too long, even when Cain shows himself to be an extremely limited actor given too large a role in a film that just isn't about him (see also: Ron Eldard in The House of Sand and Fog). Washington is a compelling movie star, Eva Mendes is sharp and vital, and second-fiddle John Billingsley, whose charms I suspect are fleeting, is at least still charming here. A film that'll be a lot more interesting from an auteur perspective if Franklin ever gets his career back on track, Out of Time is inoffensive now for the casual viewer and tantalizing for the student. By itself a minor success, only history will show if it's the first step to something better or just the last, tragic gasp of an artist before he's finally swallowed whole by the mainstream twaddle in which he swims.
MGM releases Out of Time in a spacious, overly bright and grainy 2.40:1 anamorphic video transfer prone to moiré problems and colour bleed, but if it's a little rough around the edges (indeed, DP Theo van de Sande's work on Cruel Intentions displayed the same kind of affected autumnal defect), I'm willing to think that it's in the cause of the picture's atmosphere. A DD 5.1 audio mix is roomy and professional--sedate almost, though it'll occasionally surprise with the bass refrain and the stray atmospheric in the rear channels. (The finale, particularly, with a dog red herring, made me jump.) On another track, Franklin weighs in with a feature-length yakker that finds the director in high spirits while relating behind-the-scenes anecdotes and, for the most part, avoiding regurgitating plot. Not an essential track, it nevertheless gives a little insight now and again into the filmmaker's thought process behind a shot--the difficulty of arranging proper coverage under certain circumstances--and the philosophies that govern how this director approaches performance and shot selection. Best are the parts that talk about the ridiculous trims required to garner the film a PG-13 rating; worst are the long stretches of silence.
A 13-minute "making of" featurette ("Out of Time: Crime Scene") is the typical B-reel footage mixed with on-set junket soundbites. Additionally, Cain and Lathan find their screen tests, five in all, on display--I don't understand the purpose of supplementary material like this, to be honest: Tippi Hedren's screen test for Hitchcock and Marnie is one thing, primetime Superman reading from a script for a part that he butchers is another altogether. Of peculiar interest, however, is the dawning realization that Lathan is actually better in the screen test than she is in the film. Equally useless is an image gallery (automated and set to music) that strikes me as the kind of filler that studios try to pack on to make their "Special Edition" production more "special" by dint of quantity rather than quality. Trailers for this, Jeepers Creepers 2, Dark Blue, Antitrust, Die Another Day, and the surprisingly good Barbershop 2, two typically unfunny outtakes, and superfluous character bios (note: not cast/crew, but character) round out the workmanlike presentation. Originally published: February 24, 2004.