It's not often that you can accuse the movie business of being topical, but in the week when the Occupy protests were making headlines every day, two of Hollywood's biggest studios released films reflecting the protesters' concerns.
The more enticing of the two, on paper, is In Time, which is written and directed by Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show, Gattaca), a man with a knack for zeitgeisty science-fiction conceits. It's set in a future where, thanks to genetic engineering, human beings stop ageing at 25. The bad news is that they drop dead at 26, unless they can buy a stay of execution. Time is, literally, money.
There's a head-spinning satire to be made about a world of eternal, if cash-dependent youth, so it's disappointing that Niccol's own interest in the premise amounts to some groan-worthy wordplay. Every other line is "Don't waste my time" or "Can you spare a minute?" Puns aside, In Time is a second-rate chase thriller. Justin Timberlake plays a factory worker from the ghetto (an area imaginatively known as "The Ghetto") where the underclass live hour by hour. But then he gets a glimpse of the gated community where the near-immortal super-rich spend their long, long lives – although why they'd choose to surround themselves with fascistic grey concrete architecture is beyond me. The police, led by Cillian Murphy's 50-year veteran, assume Timberlake must be a criminal, so he runs off with a tycoon's daughter, Amanda Seyfried, and breaks into the vaults where surplus lifespans are kept – don't ask. These stick-ups are such a doddle that it's hard to see why nobody tried them sooner.
Having shown some promise in The Social Network, Timberlake is as wooden here as his surname, but better actors than he would be defeated by Niccol's leaden dialogue. Instead of having conversations, the characters parrot slogans about the unfair distribution of wealth, slogans that would seem a bit short of subtlety if they were painted on a banner outside St Paul's Cathedral. The problem is that Niccol appears to be bored by the intriguing idea of a society without ageing – and yet he thinks that robbing from the rich to give to the poor is in itself an electrifying new concept.
There's more anti-capitalism, of sorts, in Tower Heist, a film with the most utilitarian title since Bad Teacher. It stars Ben Stiller as the manager of an exclusive New York apartment block. When one of its richest residents, Alan Alda, turns out to be a Bernie Madoff-like fraudster who has drained the staff's pension funds, Stiller and a few colleagues decide to crack the safe Alda has hidden somewhere in his penthouse, with the help of an experienced crook, Eddie Murphy.
Tower Heist is a missed opportunity. Stiller tells his gang that it's their in-depth knowledge of the building that will enable them to pull off the crime, but none of the eight screenwriters makes use of that knowledge in any way. Still, the film has the pace and pizzazz that a crime caper needs, with enough blaring brass to drown out most of your objections.
Nicholas Barber sees the first festive film of the season, Aardman's Arthur Christmas
Bullets and bathing suits are an incendiary combination in Mexican drug-war drama Miss Bala, with Stephanie Sigman as the pageant contestant straying into deep trouble. Elsewhere, the ubiquitous Ryan Gosling is back again and matching his director/co-star jaw for jaw in George Clooney's political satire The Ides of March.
Also Showing: 06/11/2011
The Future (91 mins, 12A)
Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone we Know) returns with an acute, if overly quirky comedy about a pair of LA hipsters who realise in their mid-thirties that they still have no idea what to do with their lives.
Jack Goes Boating (89 mins, 15)
In Philip Seymour Hoffman's low-key directorial debut, he and Amy Ryan play two lonely fortysomethings who embark on a tentative romance.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (104 mins, 12A)
Terrible melodrama about the friendship between two women in 19th-century China, and their present-day counterparts.
Will (102 mins, PG)
A boy bunks off school so he can see Liverpool play in Istanbul.
Oslo, August 31st (95 mins, 15)
A recovering drug addict mooches around Oslo for a day.