Out of Time
Dir. Carl Franklin; writ. David Collard; feat. Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes, John Billingsley, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain (PG-13)

Eva Mendes and Denzel Washington in Out of Time (Courtesy photo)
In the Florida-situated Out of Time, Denzel Washington plays a small-town cop who rarely sees much action - except, that is, for the kind dished out by the wife of the local big-shot ex-football star. Sneaking around with a married woman under the sticky coastal sky, Chief Whitlock ought to be able to smell the trouble a safe full of confiscated drug money is going to bring him.

But he can't, and he is the only one; director Carl Franklin drops the kind of lead-footed clues that make half an hour of plot development not only unnecessary but unentertaining. We know who's pulling the wool over whose eyes, how they're doing it, and which actresses were chosen for their torsos instead of their line-reading abilities.

The film is being sold as a "they set me up!" thriller, so it's not spoiling anything to say that Whitlock gets himself conned early in the tale. It's tempting, though, to tell exactly how the set-up happens and when it comes to fruition, because late-comers to the flick might actually enjoy what happens next. Almost from the moment Whitlock sees the frame-up approaching, the screen comes alive with a convincing tension. The clock is ticking, and the police chief's hitherto dim wits kick into gear. We're with him completely as he starts burying evidence, jumping ahead of his colleagues as they pursue leads that will point to the conclusion that he's a murderer.

While Whitlock schemes, he gets some help from a booze-hound mortician with a strong sarcastic streak; as Chae, the disheveled John Billingsley walks away with more scenes than one, continually suggesting that the characters step out of the plot they're in and into one that would be a bit more gratifying. If, after seeing the edgy extremes he could reach in Training Day, Washington's fans have understandably grown tired of seeing him in so many straightforward roles, Billingsley at least injects a little playful sarcasm into the proceedings.

Although the film's midsection is far from perfect - Washington dangles tediously from a balcony railing for a while, and Eva Mendez' acting doesn't improve as Mrs. Whitlock's role in the story grows more critical - Franklin does provide two or three bits of enjoyable misdirection as his hero stays one step, or at least a couple of toe-lengths, ahead of discovery.

Once the noose is firmly around the Chief's neck and he has few secrets left to hide, Out of Time returns to its original plodding mode. Climactic standoffs and sly reunions unfold with only the most marginal deviation from expectations, despite Billingsley's best court-jester efforts. On the way out of the theater, moviegoers who had anything resembling a good time may feel obliged to couch their comments in all sorts of qualifications. The movie's title doesn't quite get it right: the story runs out of steam well before the clock stops ticking. •


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