Clearly, Denzel isn’t out to win any Oscars for “Out of Time.” That’s not to say that his new thriller isn’t loads of fun and worth watching, only that it’s probably not the “Denzel Movie” much of Black America is anticipating, like Christmas or the start of a new football season.
For the last several years, Washington has done a good job of filling his resume with powerful performances in powerful films. Whether it’s the Oscar-winning “Training Day,” the underrated and powerful “Antwone Fisher” or “The Hurricane,” his name has become synonymous with high-quality product.
“Is it good?” “Yea, you know. It’s Denzel.”
But Washington hasn’t made a movie like this in a long time, and those hoping that “Time” will be on par with director Carl Franklin’s other Denzel detective flick “Devil in a Blue Dress,” should be prepared for something a bit different.
While there is death, double-crosses and close calls involved, “Time,” with its sunny locales and punchy humor, has much more in common with Washington’s “The Mighty Quinn” than the more noir-ish “Devil.” The story follows Denzel as Matt Lee Whitlock, the top cop in a sleepy Florida town. Whitlock is carrying on an affair with the steamy Anne Merai Harrison (Sanaa Lathan) who is married to a cop from a neighboring town. Turns out Anne is terminally ill and needs money to get an expensive operation, one Whitlock can afford if he just, ahem, “borrows” some dirty money he just captured from a big-time drug bust.
Things get really bad when Anne and her husband turn up dead in a suspicious fire, leaving behind Anne’s will with Whitlock as the heir. From there, it’s a race as Whitlock has to throw off his cop buddies — including Eva Mendes, who plays his ex-wife and astute FBI agent — and solve the murder.
Honestly, the mystery is pretty thin and could be figured out from watching the trailer, but the fun is not in figuring out “Who” or “Why” but more so “How is Denzel going to get himself out of this one?” The film has a wonderful sense of tension and suspense as Whitlock gets himself in and out of mounting danger. Some will be quick to point out the obvious parallels between Whitlock’s dilemma and the one that drove Kevin Costner in the equally taut “No Way Out.” But it’s Denzel, Eva and well-deserved humor that keeps “Time” from feeling like a lazy imitation.
Part of what makes the film stand out is the performances. Despite his decidedly everyman look, Whitlock is a actually a bigger, if more subtle, departure in character for Washington than the slimy Alonzo Harris in “Training.” Usually, Denzel’s characters are at the very least bright men who make reasonable decisions in the face of adversity.
Such is not the case for Whitlock, a man of lazy morals and dormant common sense. Sort of a shlub, Whitlock is a big fish in a small pond who doesn’t think until he has to. And in this case, he’s forced to stay on his toes through out. While it’s understandable why any man would become putty in the hands of Lathan, it’s hard to understand why Whitlock would risk his job by giving her ALL of the drug money. But this guy isn’t firing on all pistons.
Lathan, who has made power moves in “Love and Basketball” and “Disappearing Acts,” is given short shrift here. She’s the damsel in distress and doesn’t get to do much more than get down with Denzel in a couple of love scenes (a trifle many sisters would beg for).
It ends up being Eva Mendes (who played Denzel’s arm-candy in “Training”) as his estranged wife who really shines. Mendes showed her comic skills in the truly funny “All About the Benjamins,” and here she shows she can do more than strip around Denzel. Mendez truly holds her own as a woman who, despite being clearly 17 years younger than him, holds strong sway over Whitlock, who visibly is scared of her. The two have a nice banter, and it’s not hard to imagine these two as friends off screen.
Things wrap up predictably and a little too pat for my taste, but that doesn’t stop “Out of Time” from being a wonderful distraction from all the heavy dramas poised to depress you this fall season. Franklin, Washington and the crew offer an invitation for a good time. For those willing to accept a laid-back Washington, it’s an invitation impossible to ignore.
James Hill is a BET.com Staff Writer