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Non-Review Review: Nick of Time

Nick of Time is an underrated nineties high-concept thriller that really runs on the charm of its cast and the skill of director John Badham.In a way, Badham seems stuck in a race against time that is just as tense as anything facing his protagonist. Badham has to make it from the start of the film to the final fadeout before the audience stops to think too much about the somewhat convoluted plot taking place. Nick of Time features perhaps the most ridiculously convoluted assassination attempt ever, but it’s generally so much fun that it’s easy not to get tangled in some of the logic problems.

They weren’t trained for this…

Gene Watson is picked up at a train station by two people claiming to be police officers. They kidnap his daughter, and demand that he kill a particular target in an hour-and-a-half. If he can’t do it… well, he won’t be winning father of the year. Of course, this seems like the most insane plan for an assassination ever. The bad guys literally give Gene a gun, his target’s schedule and point him in the direction of her present location. If I were a bad guy, I’d have to do some very careful thinking before embarking on a plan with that many variables.

Sure, the pay-off is pretty great when some unknown shoots your target for you, but there’s a heck of a lot of variables to sort out. To be fair, the villain is called on this quite a bit by his partners in nebulous evil. “You gotta get creative,” one of his employers moans. “And what? What next?”It’s a good question. Luckily, it seems like either the universe or good planning manage to thwart any attempt by Gene to inform any sort of authority figure, and thus end the movie in about two minutes.

Out of his Depp?

It’s to Badham’s credit that the audience doesn’t seem too fazed by these massive coincidences required to keep the plot going. His direction is intense and focused enough that we’re willing to look past some of the more obvious potential problems. Badham makes us want to accept the movie’s premise at face-value, to the point where we don’t even complain about a rather left-field fantasy segue in the middle of the film, one that kinda kills the whole “real time” gimmick.

Instead, Badham channels his inner Hitchcock to provide us with a nice pulpy race-against-time conspiracy thriller. In fact, one can almost trace the roots of 24 back to Nick of Time, with its countless sinister and all-encompassing conspiracies that seem to fester at the highest levels of American government. In 24, if you waited long enough, it seemed like almost everybody would be guilty of something. Nick of Time condenses that culpability into about ninety minutes, which makes the strain on credibility a little more obvious, but also gives the movie a heck of a fast pace.

“People person.”

The revelations come thick and fast. Gene makes another attempt to avoid his inevitable assassination attempt, each progressively more desperate.He finds himself trying to alert somebody under the prying eyes of a shady figure with a dodgy moustache, effortlessly brought to life by Christopher Walken. The movie is worth the price of admission alone to hear Walken declare, in his trademark deadpan, “Leave it to me. I know people. People person.”

Badham portrays Los Angeles as a hive of scum that would make most noirportrayals jealous. At best, everybody in the city is apathetic. It occasionally seems like they’re downright vindictive. When Gene and his daughter arrive in Los Angeles, they witness scenes of casual brutality on the train line. In the station, they’re hassled by some thug on roller blades. It turns out that everybody who knows Gene’s target is trying to kill her. Well, all the men in her life at least. The only trustworthy character in her entourage is revealed to be her female assistant, just to add a layer of unsubtle misogyny to the conspiracy dictated by old white men.

All the time in the world?

When the people claiming to be police abduct his daughter, one snatches a magazine from a news stand. “You stole that,” Gene’s daughter protests. “No, I didn’t,” the officer holding her clarifies. “I confiscated it.” To be fair, it’s hardly the most heavy portrayal of police corruption ever, but it establishes just how crappy Bedham’s Los Angeles actually is.

The movie’s notable for featuring one of Johnny Depp’s first leading mainstream roles outside his work with Tim Burton. Like Daniel Radcliffe attempting to escape the shadow of Harry Potter in Woman in Black, Depp seems to be trying to cast off his teen idol persona (inherited from 21 Jump Street) by playing a father. Depp is actually surprisingly convincing as the father of a young girl, with his affection seeming entirely genuine, and managing to combine the sense of a loving father with a desperately confused young man. Those are two facets that are very difficult to reconcile, but Depp does an exceptional job.

A guy who took a shine to Gene…

He is ably supported by a fine cast. Walken makes for a great villain. Pretty much the only way to accept the villain’s crazy plan and his nigh-ubiquitous presence is to accept that Christopher Walken is just that forceful a presence. Walken oozes a sinister charisma, managing to turn cheesy dialogue into extremely menacing threats. There are lines that shouldn’t work – including the character outlining the details of an old friendship – that really shouldn’t work, but Walken sells them.

On a very scarcely related note, I think restrooms should play a recording of Walken commanding, “Wash your hands!”It would just make a better world for all of us. Charles Durning pops up as one of the few friends that our hero can count on, and he’s as solid as ever. I never understood why Durning sort of faded from view, relegated to television guest star roles, following a superb string of big-screen appearances in the nineties.

Things fall apart…

Nick of Time is a movie that really works more than it should. As soon as the movie credits roll, the film’s internal logic seems to fall apart. However, it’s a credit to all involved that the movie makes it that far at all. And it’s even better that it’s great fun while it lasts.

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6 Responses

  1. I’ve never been a great fan of Johnny Depp movies, apart from the first Elm Street and his hilarious send up of Keith Richards in Pirates of the Caribbean. This one though, is right up my alley. Depp plays a boring everyman forcefully recruited into a world of hate that he has nothing to do with. He makes a classic Hitchcockian hero and the film doesn’t disappoint. It’s clever in that it plays in almost real time, the events in this one taking little more than 90 minutes to unfold. The basic plot is that Depp and his daughter are spotted in a train station by corrupt cop Christopher Walken. Walken then kidnaps the kid and tells Depp to assassinate the first lady (who is in town on a political rally) or his kid gets it. Walken is especially well suited to the snappy dialogue. Depp is let loose in a hotel conference venue with a handgun and verbal instructions to unload the weapon into this political figure before a certain time.Walken casually follows Depp as he mixes with delegates, police and hotel workers. Depp of course is trying to find a way out but with his daughter being held in a van on the road outside and him with no skills to speak of it seems all is lost.This is the wonderful premise of the movie. The ultimate everyman is faced with the ultimate decision. Depp plays the movie, not as a cop or a soldier, but as a father, and one totally out of his depth. The writing is King here, and to watch the simple plot slowly unfold to its timely, perfect solution is why I enjoy movies.

  2. Reblogged this on drndark.

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