Gene Watson is a public accountant who arrives on a train at Union Station in Los Angeles, accompanied by his 6-year-old daughter Lynn. Because of his ordinary looks, he is approached by a pair of sinister people named Smith and Jones. Pretending to be cops, Smith and Jones kidnap Lynn and confront Gene with a simple choice -- kill California governor Eleanor Grant in 90 minutes or less, or Lynn will die. Watson is given a gun, six bullets, and a name tag, and he is told to go to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and kill Eleanor, who is giving an afternoon speech. While Jones is watching Lynn in a van, Smith watches Watson in order to prevent Watson from alerting the authorities. Watson must quickly find some way to get himself and Lynn out of this seemingly impossible situation. Written by
The bulk of the movie was shot almost entirely hand-held using combinations of multi-camera and Steadicam set-ups. Even during the few actual dolly tracking sequences, the camera was hand-held and operated from a dolly by a seated cameraman. See more »
When fighting with Watson on the stairway, Mr. Smith's hair is in his face on the closeup shot but is otherwise greased back. See more »
[Mr. Watson hears the train conductor shoutout to the Amtrak travelers]
Los Angeles is next! Los Angeles is next! Please check under your seats.
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The consistent struggle for originality in the genre of action thrillers has lead to certain less than outstanding premises being lauded as innovative - Nick of Time being a perfect example. While the premise of an everyman being blackmailed into murder to prevent his daughter's murder is undeniably a clever one, showing glimmers of Hitchcock, it was hardly an instant meal ticket to a successful film. In the hands of a sturdy, capable filmmaker and boasting a taut, terse script, Nick of Time might have evolved into a nail biting masterpiece of tension, but as it is, the results fall disappointingly short of initial expectations.
While the idea of the film's plot unfolding in real time is intriguing, despite its concise hour and a half length the film still feels overlong, as if it is pushing its slight concept over too extended a period, leading to many repetitions or slack moments as opposed to the taut, gripping thriller it intended to be. Director John Badham (name related puns were just bound to surface given the quality of his work here) appears uncomfortable with the notion of an intense, claustrophobic thriller, and continually inundates the film with long shots, as if attempting to broaden its scope - the result being an expansive laxity of the tension which was ultimately necessary to make the film a success. Similarly, despite its "thriller" classification, the action in the film is restricted to only two brief setpieces (one being an ill- advised dream sequence), suggesting its being primarily fuelled by suspense and emotional tension - however, apart from the odd patch of effectively generated tension, the film is so poorly executed on these fronts that it is often simply a lackluster, or simply uninteresting watch, falling short of expectations that were never terribly high to begin with.
The paltry, often laughable script offers nothing more than poor lines, a mostly entirely absent sense of palpable tension and frequent absurdly inexplicable character motivations (seeing as Walken's character oversees the pending murder so closely, why not simply do the job himself?) leading to plot twists which make little sense. Even the initially appealing premise reveals itself to be a thinly thought out one, complete with dollops of plot holes too large to be swallowed up by the pithy enjoyment factor. While some peculiar cinematography adds a mildly unique quality to the film, the ever so subtle recurring visual motif of clocks or watches serves to slow the film down rather than amp up the tension.
Despite being deprived a venue for his usual lunacies, Johnny Depp does what he can with the role of a harried everyman blackmailed into an assassination plot, exuding enough charisma to keep the thin premise afloat. Christopher Walken has a great deal more fun, oozing wild eyed menace as the mysterious captor coercing Depp into murder, and delivering the only really noteworthy performance of the film. Charles S. Dutton is amusing as a jovial shoe shiner swept into the midst, though his character's offbeat humour more often than not seems out of place considering his grim surroundings. Roma Maffia puts a slightly inventive spin on the archetypal hostage captor, but Marsha Mason gives an embarrassingly melodramatic rendition of the threatened senatorial candidate, Depp's target. Similarly, Courtney Chase fulfils just about every "irritating little girl" cliché in the book as Depp's kidnapped daughter, doing little to sympathise the character in the audience's eyes.
While the film can hardly be described as anywhere near as downright despicable as it might have become, disappointing is indeed the word of choice as a decently intriguing premise is overwhelmed by inattentive, lacklustre directing and lazy screen writing generating hardly a scrap of tension in a film intended to thrive on it. While the odd sliver of enjoyment can frequently be extracted from the experience, most would be well advised to avoid Nick of Time apart from those willing to tolerate its glaring inadequacies.
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