At the end of the generically titled Out of Time, someone asks the main character why he did what he did. “Because I was stupid,” he replies. After 90 minutes of telling the character just how stupid he is, it was a minor victory for me to hear him admit it. Still, it’s hard to blame Matthias (Denzel Washington) for being stupid. He’s only doing what screenwriter David Collard needed him to do. If Matthias were a bit smarter, there wouldn’t have been a plot, and thus no movie.
Tropic of Cancer
PG-13 for Sexual content, violence, language
Matthias (Denzel Washington) is the sheriff of a sleepy little Florida town of retirees, Jimmy Buffetts, and shady characters. Separated from his wife, he is sleeping with a married woman, Anne (Sanaa Lathan). Her husband Chris (Dean Cain) is a former footballer who is now one of Banyan Key’s shady characters. Chris is written to be a wife-beater, which piques Matt’s protective instincts and gets us to root for him over Chris.
On a weekend when Chris is out of town, Anne meets with her doctor. Matthias comes along for moral support. Matthias didn’t realize that she was visiting an oncologist, and that Anne had been diagnosed with cancer. The doctor’s news is grim: the cancer has spread and Anne only has a matter of months to live.
She tries to finagle a “living trust” on her life insurance policy, but the deal falls through and Anne’s last hope for experimental treatments is dashed. One good thing comes of it. She works up the nerve to leave Chris. Before leaving town she signs over her life insurance policy to Matthias.
Without going into too much detail, let’s fast forward to the movie’s tagline, which is “How do you solve a murder when all the evidence points to you?”
Prelude to Suspense
The key problem with the script is that Matthias is stupid. Before Anne left, he gave her some cash that wasn’t exactly his. It was DEA evidence that he thought he could replace before anyone noticed. So not only does Matthias face murder charges, (of which he is innocent and might be able to dodge), but he also faces felony theft and tampering with evidence, crimes which will ensure he never works as a cop again, even if he does beat the murder rap.
Matthias’ only help comes in the form of Chae (John Billingsley), the town’s medical examiner. Billingsley is Out of Time’s comic relief. Think of Bender the robot from Futurama and you have an idea of Chae’s personality — chain-smoking, hard-drinking, and willing to steal anything he can get his hands on. Chae is selfish and lazy, but when the chips are down, he can be counted on to do the right thing.
Then there’s the wild card, Matthias’ soon-to-be-ex-wife Alex (Eva Mendes). She is also a cop. She’s recently been promoted to detective, and she’s in charge of the investigation into Anne’s death. Will the personal connection buy Matthias more time, or will it work against him?
Matthias made his own mess, but screenwriter David Collard is guilty too. Look at it from Collard’s point of view. If Matt doesn’t steal the money, he might as well tell the truth about his affair, which ends the movie after only 30 minutes, ho hum. On the other hand, if Matt can’t come clean, then we have a movie where the hero must prove his innocence before the investigators can catch up to him. We have a script with potential for suspense, chase scenes, and maybe a twist or two.
If you can overlook the first 45 minutes, Out of Time is a tense thriller. It’s still not original or artistic, but it’s effective at getting your blood pumping.
Although Out of Time redeemed itself halfway through, it’s probably not worth a trip to the theater. It’s watchable. It’s perfectly workable. But we should all set our sights higher than that.