- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

“Out of Time” is well-served by an advertising come-on that asks the question, “How do you solve a murder when all the evidence points to you?” This is precisely the dilemma that confronts Denzel Washington as Matthew Lee Whitlock, who runs the four-man police force in tiny Banyan Key, Fla., before being obliged to run himself ragged trying to elude criminal jeopardy in a murder and extortion conspiracy.

The unwary Chief Whitlock has indulged a clandestine love affair with a married woman, Sanaa Lathan’s Ann Harrison, soon after a regrettable split with his own torrid spouse, Eva Mendes as Alex Diaz. The hero’s attempts to evade the glare of a murder investigation are complicated by the inconvenient fact that his ex-wife was recently promoted to homicide detective in Miami.

Since it proves to be shameless rather than ingenious as an entrapment melodrama, “Out of Time” may seem more diverting if you view it as an unwitting comic fable about the extent to which treacherous sexual gratification can cloud the mind, robbing a fellow of adequate foresight and self-protection.

Chief Whitlock has become part of a triangle with former high-school classmates: his rendezvous with Ann are stolen under the nose of her seemingly suspicious and menacing husband Chris (Dean Cain), a former football star now employed as a hospital security guard. The love affair evidently rekindled a teenage attachment between Matt and Ann. She intimates that Chris has abused her and then reveals a graver source of fear: a diagnosis of cancer that will require expensive treatment in Europe to permit any chance of her survival.

At this point the audience will need to be very strong for Denzel Washington in order to excuse his character’s credulousness and desperately outrageous evasive maneuvers. Matt agrees to contribute to Ann’s cancer fund, a gesture that involves a prodigiously reckless, not to mention illegal, indiscretion, leaving him vulnerable to both disgrace and prosecution.

An overnight act of arson and the discovery of charred remains bring love-blind Matt to the realization that he is at best a humiliating sap and fall guy. He must accelerate the disgrace in order to save his hide, frequently concealing evidence during a frenzied race against time.

As both federal agents and Alex’s homicide team arrive from Miami, the hero scrambles to shield himself from suspicion long enough to collar the deceivers who put him on the spot. In this he is aided by a sympathetic confederate: John Billingsley as a dumpy, rumpled sidekick called Chae, often quicker on the uptake than the hero and willing to risk his own job by running interference or covering tracks for his boss.

Carl Franklin directed two of the best crime thrillers of the 1990s: “One False Move” and “Devil in a Blue Dress.” The latter, of course, co-starred Denzel Washington, in the first and still only movie derived from the Easy Rawlins detective novels of Walter Mosley.

It’s small comfort that “Out of Time” will probably become the crowd-pleaser that “Blue Dress” never was, thanks to Mr. Washington’s post-Oscar stardom. His new status may now permit him to get away with just about anything, including a less flattering and challenging role as an underdog sleuth.

*1/2

TITLE: “Out of Time”

RATING: PG-13 (About as close to the R borderline as you get; frequent graphic violence and sexual candor; occasional profanity and fleeting nudity with simulated intercourse)

CREDITS: Directed by Carl Franklin. Written by Dave Collard. Cinematography by Theo Van de Sande. Production design by Paul Peters. Costume design by Sharen Davis. Music by Graeme Revell

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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