A solidly updated thriller

Denzel's on the run in stylish `Out of Time'

October 03, 2003|By John Anderson | John Anderson,NEWSDAY

The police-procedural/crime thriller has been done to death, so to speak. Where do you go from there? In the case of Out of Time, you simply bring the genre up to date.

With a screenplay that feels like it came from a novel and didn't (it's the first feature script by Dave Collard), Carl Franklin creates high tension via the very aspects of modern investigation that should prevent him from doing exactly that. In real-life crime fighting, the fugitive has lost a lot of his edge, aka his privacy/anonymity (and haven't we all). Credit-card charges can be traced immediately, police can have cell-phone records faxed in mere moments, tracking devices can be planted in cars. Plenty of films have been made with cops using obsolete crime-fighting methods. Out of Time does the reverse.

The unfortunate figure in the middle of Franklin's state-of-the-art pursuit is Matthias Whitlock (Denzel Washington), the chief of police on a Florida key, who is divorcing Alex (Eva Mendes) and sleeping with Ann Merai (Sanaa Lathan). That Ann Merai is the wife of the brutish Chris Harrison (Dean Cain) makes things a bit ticklish when the two men cross paths. Chris, however, will find a way to pay Matt back, by playing on Matt's better instincts. Matt, subsequently, will spend most of the movie trying to avoid arrest, while at the same time trying to solve what appear to be two murders.

Franklin lays out the basic plot and its intersecting principals in tight mini-chapters that are both stylish and structurally sound - then he piles on the complications. While giving anything away about Out of Time would be giving everything away, there are, at the same time, certain aspects of moviemaking that Franklin can't do much about. One is the presence of Washington, the most charismatic film actor of his era and an unlikely candidate for a character on the losing end of a studio movie. It's a simple case of the Hollywood Law of Gravity: Stars do not fall. So Franklin is somewhat handcuffed in how much tension he can create, because we know too much about how movies work.

But he creates a minor nerve-wracking miracle with Out of Time, the best film of its kind in recent memory.

A big part of the equation is the basic sexual chemistry of Washington, Mendes and Lathan, all of whom set off sparks, against the comedy relief provided by John Billingsley, whose wisecracking medical examiner, Chae, is consistently funny. And a great foil for Washington. Or is it the reverse?

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Out of Time

Starring: Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes and Sanaa Lathan

Directed by: Carl Franklin

Rated: PG-13 (adult content, language, violence)

Released by: MGM

Time: 105 minutes

Sun Score ***

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