FILM: Surprising ‘Out of Time’ an engaging yarn

Kyle Smith

A double-feature of summer’s offensive excess-fest “Bad Boys II” and Carl Franklin’s tense “Out of Time” could permanently place Miami’s floundering tourism department in the pleasant company of corruption-riddled Detroit and St. Louis.

In “Out of Time,” Denzel Washington is Matt Lee Whitlock, the friendly police chief of the Miami suburb of Banyon Key. He receives booty calls in the form of emergency phone calls from Anne Merai Harrison (Sanaa Lathan), with whom he is having an affair. However, Anne’s abusive cop husband Chris (Dean Cain) begins to grow weary of Whitlock’s too-casual friendliness with his wife.

When the Harrisons are found dead in an apparent arson, Whitlock realizes he’s been carefully framed. Days before, Anne learned she had terminal cancer and subsequently changed her life insurance policy to make Whitlock her sole recipient. To further complicate matters, Whitlock’s estranged wife Alex (Eva Mendes) also happens to be the homicide detective attached to the case.

One-time “Family Guy” scribe David Collard’s script is like a wind-up toy — the set-up is clumsy and laborious, but the payoff is surprisingly satisfying before ultimately petering out. The opening half hour is too clumsily efficient, but once Collard establishes the plot’s unique duality, the movie runs away.

There are two investigations in “Out of Time” — Alex’s search for the murderer, and Whitlock’s hyper-search for the murderer. And since they’re working together, Whitlock’s greatest enemy is information. The film milks the most suspense from techno-thrills — the arrival of a fax, the importance of a phone call. The domestic setting and pleasant attitude of Whitlock and Banyon Key contrast small-town politeness with immoral scandal.

These dual searches make “Out of Time” far more distinct than its generic title would suggest. Washington, typically solid, instills Whitlock with enough vulnerability to make the film’s leaps of faith land on solid ground. Cain seems to have found time to leave the busy set of cable freak show “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” and hams it up nicely, looking like an oversized Matt Dillon.

Franklin is in top form, recalling his breakthrough film, “One False Move,” and he ensures that “Out of Time” knows its place. It is a film both limited and saved by its slightness. Although the film is intense, as stylistically conveyed by cinematographer Theo van de Sande’s countless crane shots and swooping camera, it retains a gentle sense of humor, characterized by Graeme Revell’s Miami lounge music and Washington’s easygoing demeanor. There’s an urgency to “Out of Time,” but also a flighty detachment both the film and audience enjoy.

The movie loses its bite and energy by the final reel, however. The ending is a contrived disappointment, obviously aware that it is unable to match the suspenseful pace, and it descends into predictable backstabbing and ironic showdowns.

“Out of Time” is a one-off riff of a movie, to be sure, but compelling nonetheless. In “Bad Boys II,” narcissistic, apocalyptic Miami PD cops destroy the city while popping ecstasy and lying to their flabbergasted, ineffectual superiors. In “Out of Time,” Denzel sleeps around, launders money and jazzily covers his tracks. It seems the truth shall set you free — in any place other than Miami. B+