Out of Time
2003, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Carl Franklin. Starring Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain, John Billingsley.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 10, 2003
Denzel Washington remains one of the most charismatic and just plain likable actors since, well, Jimmy Stewart, and if you don’t normally think of those two as being more or less in the same ballpark (and most Stewart comparisons begin and end with Tom Hanks these days), that has less to do with either Washington or Stewart than it does with public perceptions of race and the mysteries of the Hollywood marketing machine. Both actors have the same sort of smart, deliberate, occasionally self-effacing style, and both have tended toward roles involving all-American average guys, smart ones to be sure, but generally as normal as the day is long. Washington’s turn as the corrupt cop in Training Day two years back was a brilliant bit of playing against type – something even Stewart rarely did – but for the most part, Washington’s stock-in-trade is the nice guy, up against the system, beating the odds, and emerging triumphant to a brighter day. And, as The New York Times noted last weekend, he always seems to be playing a cop, just as for a while there Stewart always seemed to be playing a cowboy. Out of Time does little to dispel the creeping feeling that Washington’s getting himself in something of a rut. Paired again with Carl Franklin, who directed the actor in Devil in a Blue Dress, a fine adaptation of one of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins stories, Washington is as clever as ever as harried Matt Whitlock, the chief of police in a dismal Florida beach town who discovers all fingers point to him when both the married woman with whom he’s been having an affair (Lathan) and her violent-edged husband (Cain, late of Superman) turn up dead, the victims of an apparent case of arson. Normally this sort of rap would be tough enough to beat, but Franklin and debuting screenwriter David Collard, make it even tougher for Washington by adding in a few other shady complications. It’s a stretch, but as Carl Franklin, who long ago directed the genre classic One False Move, well knows, love makes fools of good guys and bad guys both. Add to this the fact that Whitlock is in the process of divorcing sultry Eva Mendes (another detective no less), and she’s now harboring grave suspicions of her own, and you’ve got something of a Southern-fried potboiler that feels too much like any number of humid Floridian whodunits. Washington is more than competent in the role (has he ever been not?). He has a knack for playing out the inner workings of his smart-guy characters on that subtly handsome face of his that let’s you know exactly what’s going on inside without ever having to resort to windy exposition. It’s the hallmark of the very best sort of actor, and, too, Franklin’s Florida Gothic direction – the settings seem as though they’re in desperate need of a good bug bomb even when they’re not – is top-notch. Why then does Out of Time feel like just another also-ran in the Washington file? It’s because we’ve seen Washington as this character before, in Fallen, The Bone Collector, The Siege – not the same character, but similar. Too similar to ignore, really, and all getting a bit redundant. Directors take note, then: It’s high time for Denzel Washington’s Vertigo. Get to it.