In Time * * 1/2

Genre: Action Thriller

Director: Andrew Niccol

Writer: Andrew Niccol

Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cilian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Vincent Kartheiser

Running Length: 110 minutes

Synopsis: In Time is set in a world where time has replaced money as the universal currency. The wealthy have accumulated thousands of years, allowing them to live forever, while the poor beg, borrow, and steal enough minutes to make it through the day. In this world, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one of the unlucky ones, waking up every morning with 23 hours left on his ticking clock, and the knowledge that if he doesn't earn enough time, he won't live to see tomorrow. But Will's fortune takes an unexpected turn when a wealthy stranger turns up dead, and Will finds himself 100 years richer. Now the prime suspect for the man's murder, Will is on the run, with the help of a beautiful young woman (Amanda Seyfried), who is the only one who believes he is innocent.

Review: It’s a fascinating concept – what if time is the only currency we trade in? Andrew Niccol takes this idea to an extreme in In Time, and whilst this is a slick, entertaining action thriller that’s extremely apt for this era we’re in (pardon the pun but the timing could not be better, given the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots), it does eventually slightly wear down the viewer because it’s a very singular concept that doesn’t offer much wiggle room. Once the idea has been presented, there’s only that much that can be done before it starts to feel repetitive. The fact that the movie runs almost 2 hours long, with an extremely heavy handed use of time-related metaphors (and more time puns than you can shake a stick at), only serves to exacerbate this issue.

However, there are a lot of things going on for the movie that help to elevate the film above mediocrity. Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried make a good looking couple, and the duo share an easy chemistry though they never really light up the screen. They are more like a pair of fun-loving, sharp-dressing BFFs, but this isn’t really a downside since the pairing still works in principle. The rest of the cast are also quite effective, and it’s clear that Niccol spent some effort in casting actors that are somewhat ageless in appearance.  

Where In Time truly shines is in its impeccable production values. Not only is the cinematography breathtaking, thanks to seasoned cinematographer Roger Deakins, the art direction is near flawless, starting with multiple Oscar-winning Colleen Atwoods’ gorgeous costumes to the amazing set and prop designs. It’s clear that much thought has been put into even the littlest details, and In Time is a superlative effort when it comes to aesthetics. 

Look past some little niggles in the plot (it’s never explained why humans stop aging at 25, and why everyone’s lifespan is limited to just an extra year, for example), and In Time manages to function very well as an eye candy film, extending beyond the actors and into the look and feel of the film itself. For an action film released in the “off season”, one could certainly do worse than what has been accomplished here.          

Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars)


Killer Elite * * 1/2

Genre: Action Thriller

Director: Gary McKendry

Writers: Gary McKendry & Matt Schering, based on the novel The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes

Cast: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro

Running Length: 118 minutes

Synopsis: Inspired by true events, Killer Elite follows the exploits of Danny (Jason Statham), one of the world's most skilled special-ops agents. Lured out of self-imposed exile, Danny reassembles his crack team of operatives to execute a near-impossible mission of retribution – to rescue his former mentor and partner Hunter (Robert De Niro). Together they must penetrate the highly feared and respected military unit, the British Special Air Service (SAS), to take down a rogue cell of soldier assassins and their leader Spike (Clive Owen) before their actions create a global crisis.

Review: On the surface, Killer Elite seems to feature a perfect cast – tough guys Jason Statham and Clive Owen facing off each other, and with Robert De Niro to boot – but the picture is not that rosy in reality. This is a classic case of “too much of a good thing”: Killer Elite simply throws too much at the audience, with a very complex plot structure that many viewers would simply give up trying to follow eventually. Thankfully, the action in the film is very well executed, so the film somewhat balances out into an action thriller that stakes its place in the middle of the pack.

One of the biggest problems with Killer Elite is that the plot threads come thick and heavy, and much of it really makes no sense at all even if you are paying close attention. In fact, much of the movie feels disjointed and the flow from one segment to the next is usually quite jarring. This could be because the book The Feather Men, the inspiration behind the film, has been accused of factual inaccuracies and even outright untruths, and so adapting the source into a film turns into a clumsy dance around the facts. One of the worst-developed subplots is the romantic angle between Statham and his beau (Yvonne Strahovski – who is probably getting more screen time than needed because of her fame on the small screen as the femme fatale in Chuck) which is never convincing and feels particularly tacked onto the proceedings.

Although the promo for the film tries to suggest that Killer Elite features the three actors evenly, the truth is that it’s simply a Jason Statham movie, with Clive Owen and Robert De Niro as guest stars. In fact, De Niro is pretty much out of the picture throughout the whole film except the first and last reels. There’s actually nothing wrong with Killer Elite being all about Jason Statham, because like most of his movies, Killer Elite is chock full of hard-hitting action, high-adrenaline car chases and more shootouts than you can shake a stick at. It’s highly visceral and highly entertaining, provided you are in the right mindset. One does wish that with stars of such caliber like Owens and De Niro on board, something more could have been done with them than just being impressive window dressing.   

Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars)


What’s Your Number? * * 1/2

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Director: Mark Mylod

Writers: Gabrielle Allan & Jennifer Crittenden

Cast: Anna Faris, Chris Evans

Running Length: 107 minutes

Synopsis: Anna Faris is Ally Darling, an offbeat young woman who decides, after hitting the un-magical number of 20 lovers, to re-visit all her ex-boyfriends in the hopes of finding the man of her dreams. She’s assisted in her quest by her womanizing neighbor Colin (Chris Evans).

Review: If you’ve seen the recently-released Bridesmaids, What’s Your Number? may seem a little too familiar, because the two films actually cover pretty similar ground. And of course, like most romantic comedies out there, What’s Your Number? is no different from the run of the mill, bringing nothing new to the table.

Not that it’s expected to – after all, fans of romantic comedies are already aware of the eventual outcomes of almost every film that’s in the genre, and what matters is the journey, not the destination, which usually translates to the on-screen chemistry between the two leads. This is where, unfortunately, What’s Your Number falls short – although Anna Faris and Chris Evans make a good looking couple, they do not share a strong chemistry and their pairing feels forced even at the end of the film. Their banter is great, but there’s just too little of it in the film to convince audiences of their viability as a couple.   

The film does slightly better on the comedy aspect, with a handful of standout moments that will at the very least leave a smile on your face. I have been a casual fan of Anna Faris since her breakout performance in Scary Movie, and she is a dependable actress that can deliver the comedic goods. However, the scenarios do get a little contrived at times, and the core concept of revisiting one’s ex-boyfriends to find The One just doesn’t feel that believable.

What’s Your Number succeeds on two counts – Faris’ easy likeability and Evans’ frequently bare (and very buff) body. Faris has made it her specialty to play what essentially is a dumb blonde, ready to embarrass her characters in ways that many leading ladies would balk at doing, and this “human-ness” and authenticity is what makes Faris, and by extension her characters, highly likeable and easy to root for.

Chris Evans, on the other hand, is aware that one of his most prized assets is his body, and in this R-rated comedy ensures that no audience member would miss seeing his Captain America physique by parading in various stages of undress for much of the film. And for anyone who is watching the movie to make goo goo eyes at Evans, the payoff is more than sufficient.

Whilst What’s Your Number? is nowhere near the top-tier romantic comedies, it doesn’t rank too lowly either, existing somewhere in the middle – pleasant enough to not make it feel like a waste of time, but not memorable in any significant way.    

Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars)


Real Steel * * *

Genre: Action/Drama

Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: John Gatins, suggested by the short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn

Running Length: 127 minutes

Synopsis: A gritty, white-knuckle, action ride set in the near-future where the sport of boxing has gone high-tech, Real Steel stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring. Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a championship contender. As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.

Review: It’s not often said for a two-plus hour movie, but there’s so much going on in Real Steel that the running time actually feels too short to accommodate everything. This isn’t exactly a compliment, since it points to the film being slightly overstuffed, but the good news is that Real Steel is a pretty decent attempt at merging the father-and-son movie together with the David-vs-Goliath sports movie despite its flaws.

Much like how a romantic comedy works, the sports movie needs to have the audience rallying behind the protagonists, and this Real Steel manages to do well. The robot bouts are high energy and quite exciting to watch, especially because the robots are given very distinct visual identities and are extremely convincing works of CGI, which coupled with the good action choreography, presents quite a spectacle.

Although the conclusion is pretty foregone from the beginning, it does help that most audiences will be quite vested in Atom’s fate. The human actors are all pretty decent, with the best developed interactions being between father and son (of course), and only Evangeline Lilly being shafted by being an almost one-dimensional love interest to Hugh Jackman.

However, one of the biggest issues of Real Steel is how heavily the film ladles on the sentiment. The omnipresent score by Danny Elfman rises and ebbs, providing an extremely blatant indicator to how audiences should be feeling at any one point. The finale is replete with schmaltzy scenes of tears rolling slowly down cheeks and almost every other cliché in the playbook, and the very heavy-handed manipulation may turn off the more jaded cinemagoers in the theatre.

Having said that, most of Real Steel is very watchable, and the final bout between Atom and Zeus is about as exciting as any other well-directed boxing flick, even with it being constructed wholly with CGI. And despite the 127-minute running time, very little of the film feels draggy or superfluous. If you can get past the cheesiness of it all, Real Steel will present a solid two hours of entertainment.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)


Friends with Benefits * * *

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Director: Will Gluck

Writers: Keith Merryman & David A. Newman and Will Gluck

Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman  

Running Length: 109 minutes

Synopsis: Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) think it's going to be easy to add the simple act of sex to their friendship, despite what Hollywood romantic comedies would have them believe. They soon discover however that getting physical really does always lead to complications.

Review: I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is a necessary precursor to reviews of any romantic comedy – it’s never the plot and always the chemistry. Yes, we’ve all seen movies like Friends with Benefits a thousand times before, and the ground it treads is so well worn that there are really zero surprises to be had (in fact, just earlier this year we had the similarly-themed No Strings Attached). However, Friends with Benefits has one thing in its favour: there’s excellent chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, which makes this a relatively enjoyable romantic comedy to sit through.

Since the storyline makes zero deviations from the norm, apart from the slightly cheekier aspect of the couple being sexual partners before true feelings develop, there’s really no point speaking about the plot. Friends with Benefits’ strength lies in its actors – sparks fly between Mila and Justin, but the supporting cast is what really pushes the film one level higher. Patricia Clarkson is perfectly cast as the bohemian, devil-may-care mother of Jamie, and Richard Jenkins is outstanding as Dylan’s father, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Even Woody Harrelson is highly memorable as the flamboyant gay sports editor of GQ magazine, whose transportation to work is more than a little unusual. And then there's the excellent snippets of a "romantic comedy" that plays out as a film within a film, with great cameos of Jason Segel and Rashida Jones.

Having directed Easy A before this, director Will Gluck seems to be developing a modus operandi – taking a familiar genre and coaxing great performances out from the cast members to differentiate the film from the run-of-the-mill – and so far it’s been quite successful. Many small scenes in Friends with Benefits take jabs at the conventions in romantic comedies, and it does seem a little “meta” that the film itself ticks off so many checkboxes in that same list, but as long as the film works as a whole, this isn’t really an issue at all. Friends with Benefits is a pleasant romp through familiar scenery that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and a good enough hour-plus diversion to warrant a trip to the cinemas.

P.S. If you’re so inclined, there’s a very short (but largely inconsequential) coda at the end of the credits that you could stay for.

Rating: *** (out of four stars)