Ready for the first completely real-time movie since ROPE? Ready
to hyperventilate? With NICK OF TIME Writers Patrick Duncan and Ebbe
Roe Smith have come up with an innovative script that starts at noon on
May the second and rushes like a runaway train to a preannounced climax
at 1:30 PM. The screenwriters tell you this and then director John
Badham carefully choreographs the actors so that the movie itself takes
exactly one hour and thirty minutes to get there. Since the dizzying
cinematography by Roy Wagner keeps focusing in on every clock in sight,
the audience becomes obsessed with the time.
The plot is fairly simple. Some bad guys led by Mr. Smith
(Christopher Walken) and his sidekick Ms. Jones (Roma Maffia) find an
innocent passenger, Gene Watson (Johnny Depp), and his 5 year old
daughter, Lynn Watson (Courtney Chase), getting off the Amtrak train
that arrives at noon in LA. They tell Gene that either he agrees to
kill the governor of California, Eleanor Grant (Marsha Mason), by 1:30
PM or Ms. Jones will kill his little girl. Gene doesn't understand so
Mr. Smith repeats his instructions with a carefully paced cadence, "It
is now 12:16. If she is alive at 1:30, I call my partner, and your
daughter is dead."
After many futile attempts to escape, a la the typical innocent
victim of circumstance from a Hitchcock film, Gene begins to realize
that the Mr. Smith is both omniscient and omnipresent. Whenever Gene
is just about to summon help, Mr. Smith appears and warns him that any
funny business and his little girl will be gone forever.
Early on we find out that the reason the governor is in trouble is
that she ran as a conservative but turned liberal once elected, and the
conservative special interest groups are angry, especially those
represented by the mysterious man identified in the credits only as the
Mystery Man. The Mystery Man is played by the veteran actor, G. D.
Spradlin, who was the original evil politician from the Godfather, the
senator that defies the Godfather and then gets a dead horse's head put
in bed with him. As the governor's husband, Brendan Grant, we have
Peter Strauss. One of the best minor characters is that of a hotel
shoe shiner named Huey and played by Charles Dutton. Huey is a real
character who dispenses free advice on life while shining shoes, and he
is one who Gene turns to for help.
I will not reveal any more details of the movie since working your
way through the maze of the plot in real-time is something you should
experience yourself. Suffice it to say that it is wrapped up nicely
although you think it is such a conundrum that there is no reasonable
way to end it. Moreover, it even has a neat and brief epilogue with
one of the key minor characters.
Johnny Depp is an actor who can play an amazing range characters
from his everyman role in NICK OF TIME to the ones in ED WOOD, BENNY
AND JOON, and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Here he is low key but quite
effective. I was disappointed by Christopher Walken. Usually he
dominates any scene he is in with his explosive or potentially
explosive behavior. Here the director had him under too tight a leash.
Peter Strauss never even attempts acting in the movie. His role could
have added to the tension, but Strauss's lack of energy only serves to
dampen it. G. D. Spradlin played his part as a cliche of an evil
millionaire, but the role demanded better. My favorite actor in the
movie was Marsha Mason. She was totally believable and brought a lot
to a small but crucial role. She plays a spunky politician that looks
a little like California Senator Barbara Boxer. Here Mason manages to
be both in command as a Governor and vulnerable as a human being when
faced with a mad assassin.
The script is fun, and the real-time aspects work. The dialog is
nothing special however, and most of the characters should have been
better written. The cinematography is outstanding on many levels in
the way it conveys the hopelessness and the confusion of the main
character. We get unsteady views as if from Gene's eyes. In other
scenes extreme wide angles are used to show how distorted the world
feels to him. In still other scenes we have rapid zoom outs to show
how isolated he is. The glass elevator in the hotel is used as a
metaphor in the camera work to show how vulnerable Gene is. Finally,
the sets by Philip Harrison and the music by Arthur Rubinstein help to
portray the overwhelming feeling of desperation.
NICK OF TIME runs, and I do mean runs, a little over an hour and a
half. It is rated R for some bad language and some shot 'em up
violence, but without much blood. There is no sex or nudity. I think
it is a soft R, and I would have no problems with teenagers going. One
family in our theater brought in their 3 and 8 year olds, which was
just plain stupid - it is not PG-13 material. I recommend the movie to
you and give it ** 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes