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Right in the tick of it

IN TIME Sci-fi/action. Starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer. Directed by Andrew Niccol. Cert 12A

Writer-director Andrew Niccol has always been a man for the high concept and has a couple of great successes on his CV. His 1997 directorial debut was Gattaca, an intelligent sci-fi thriller which had genetic engineering as its core theme and weaved a gripping plot around the subject. He followed that a year later with the screenplay for The Truman Show, which seemed very futuristic at the time and oh how we scoffed at the notion that people would be in any way interested in watching what was, in effect, scripted reality.

With In Time he's back in the science fiction realm and the central idea here is a cracker. What Niccol has essentially done is taken the phrase 'time is money' and constructed a dystopian alternative Earth where that is the essence of mankind's existence.

Genetic engineering means that no-one ages beyond 25 but at that age a clock kicks in which gives each person a year to live. The killer twist is that it's possible to buy, earn, lend and steal time, which results in wealthy people effectively being immortal while the working stiffs in the ghetto are, literally, living from day to day.

Niccol draws us into the harshness of life among the time-poor and introduces us to Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a resourceful factory worker trying to keep his head above water. Will's world changes one night when Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) walks into his rough local bar and, clearly out of place, is rescued from a mugging and possibly death by our central character. Hamilton has more than a century of time left, as we can see from the barcode/clock which everyone has displayed on their forearm, but has grown jaded and tired of life and wants to end it all.

With Hamilton's time transferred to him Will suddenly finds himself suspected of his murder, with veteran cop, or 'timekeeper' as they're called, Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) on his trail as he heads to the wealthy timezone of New Greenwich, becomes besotted with Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a powerful and impossibly wealthy financier (Vincent Kartheiser), and the pair go on the run.

Although the final third of the movie becomes a tad too fixated on chase sequences, the main idea of the movie is extremely strong. Every time-related adage you could possibly think of is drafted into use here and the way Niccol sets up this world in the first part of the film is mesmerising.

Justin Timberlake's stock as an actor is rising all the time and now he's added action chops to his repertoire, while Cillian Murphy is perfectly cast as a determined and dutiful detective who's aware of the injustices of the society he's sworn to protect.

In Time may slacken somewhat as it races towards its conclusion, but it's still a thought-provoking, highly imaginative piece of work and well worth two hours of your time. HHHHI

TOWER HEIST Action/comedy. Starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena, Gabourey Sibide. Directed by Brett Ratner. Cert 12A

Action and comedy are difficult genres to splice together. Director Brett Ratner managed the mix successfully in the first Rush Hour movie but got it badly wrong on the two sequels and here he's on relatively safe ground.

As the title indicates, the story here centres on a heist of The Tower, a wealthy apartment complex on Central Park. Rather than this being your average criminal caper though the object of robbery here is billionaire financier Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) who's indicted for fraud which has seen The Tower's staff pension fund disappear.

Sacked building manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) and his former concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck) decide to sting Shaw for the sum they believe to be hidden in his penthouse apartment and recruit a bankrupt tenant (Matthew Broderick) and a streetwise petty criminal (Eddie Murphy) to assist them.

The heist aspect of the movie is well handled, although dealt with to the extent that the screenwriters appear to have forgotten that this was supposed to be a comedy. Relatively light on real laughs, most of which come from a mercifully restrained Eddie Murphy and a deliciously deadpan Casey Affleck, Tower Heist gets by through good ensemble work and a lovely turn from Alan Alda as the scheming Wall Street guy who gets what's coming to him. HHHII