erasing clouds

Out of Time

reviewed by dave heaton

Out of Time is the cinematic equivalent of a "page-turner" book that makes you read it voraciously until you're done…and then when it's over you put it down and forget about it completely. After 199?5s Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time is the second Carl Franklin-directed mystery/suspense film to star Denzel Washington. But where their first collaboration was based on a Walter Mosley novel that had at least a slight dose of social consciousness, Out of Time comes from an original script by Dave Collard which is all surface.

Set in Florida, in the small town of Banyan Key as well as Miami, the film's environment looks entirely "of Hollywood" in nearly every frame. This is not the messed-up Florida of the 2000 election, but a mythic place where the setting sun always has the sky ablaze, where all the cool cats live in houseboats and drive sports cars, and the climate is sweaty and sexy in a completely unreal way. A smoky, Latin-tinged jazz score fills the air; it with the visuals pull you into a world that only exists in the movies, and there's a certain pleasure in that. There's also entertainment to be found in Denzel Washington's performance as Chief Whitlock, the Banyan Key police chief who's having an affair with a married woman and keeps throwing suspiciously protective looks at the cache of money that he took in during a drug sting. Washington's eyes are almost another marquee performer in the film. All of his character's feelings are projected through the looks he gives the people around him, and when he becomes a suspect in the murder of his mistress and her husband (Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain), he's quick to begin hiding those eyes behind orange-tinted sunglasses.

The narrative thrust of the film comes from Chief Whitlock being so logically cast into the role of suspect that he has to do everything he can to cover his trail and figure out what's really going on. That's the plotline of a million hard-boiled crime novels and noir classics, but with Out of Time you've stepped into a tamer, even more Hollywood-ized version of that world. Somewhere under its Dashiell Hammett face there's a sappy romantic comedy lying in wait. Washington's character lives by the complex moral code that's typical of this genre, but it's ultimately merely because he lost his one true love, the wife he's recently separated from. If they had just held their marriage together, the message goes, everything would have been fine. Out of Time is a genre film that's fun to watch and is filled with enough mildly surprising turns to keep you hooked, but in the end the world it presents is a safe, comfortable one where love rules supreme and adultery inevitably leads to very bad things.

Issue 17, November 2003

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