Friday 25 February 2022

Movie Review: Out Of Time (2003)

A crime mystery thriller, Out Of Time embraces noir sensibilities but is hampered by a rush of coincidences and shortcomings.

In the small Florida Keys town of Banyan Key, police chief Matt Whitlock (Denzel Washington) has recently completed a drug bust, and the police station safe is stuffed full of seized cash. Matt's marriage to Miami homicide detective Alex Diaz (Eva Mendes) is falling apart, and he is carrying on an affair with Ann Merai (Sanaa Lathan), who is unhappily married to abusive ex-football player Chris (Dean Cain). Matt's one trusted friend is medical examiner Chae (John Billingsley).

Ann Merai is diagnosed with cancer, and designates Matt as her insurance policy beneficiary. Matt unwisely lends her the cash from the police safe to pay for expensive overseas treatment. But a fire destroys Ann Merai and Chris' house, seemingly killing them both, and the cash disappears. Alex arrives to investigate, and with a motive to kill and missing cash to explain, Matt has only a few hours to uncover the truth and avoid becoming the key suspect in a double murder.

Written by David Collard and directed by Carl Franklin, Out Of Time tries hard to combine ticking clock tension with noir motivations. A sun-drenched Florida setting and a vivid colour palette create a too-hot-to-handle sensual aesthetic, and the out-of-the-way small town vibe encourages an anything-goes attitude and nefarious actions away from big city eyes.

And many noir elements ooze from pores of greed and despair. Matt's broken marriage is prodding him into the moral grey zone where alcohol at all hours and an affair with a married woman somehow make sense. Ann Merai is an obvious femme fatale, using sex as a weapon, and always ready to play the victim. Her husband Chris and co-conspirator Paul Cabot are the criminal riffraff using goonery to compensate for a lack of guile. Mysterious fires, insurance payouts, and the lure of easy-to-steal drug money complete the picture.

The film's weaknesses are also on plain view. Apart from Denzel Washington, the acting is sub-par and approaches B-grade status. Sanaa Lathan never sells the trauma of a woman confronting a cancer diagnosis, immediately giving away the conspiracy. Eva Mendes tries hard but also never convinces as a detective. Director Franklin leans on standard frantic action scenes, well-executed but inconsistent with noir intentions, including hang-from-the-balcony fight-to-the-death contrivances.

With Matt afforded just a few hours to extricate himself from a mess of his own making, too many coincidences fall in his favour. Every piece of evidence needed by Alex to connect the dots and suspect her husband is conveniently delayed by happenstance or incompetence. However, Franklin does leverage the general ineptitude to construct an enjoyable and almost Hitchcockian sequence involving a delayed fax transmission.

Out Of Time is never out of ideas, but the ambition and execution are sometimes out of synch.

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