Using real time as its gimmick, this OK but undistinguished thriller takes a simple Hitchcockian premise and milks things about as well as it can, given its confines, before a rather silly and abrupt conclusion. While Johnny Depp in a rare conventional leading-man role may be a minor draw, box office prospects appear limited, suggesting a rather timely jump to homevideo.
Getting right into the action, pic features Depp as recently widowed father Gene Watson, arbitrarily drafted to kill the governor of California by a shady man (Christopher Walken) who takes his young daughter as hostage. The challenge: Carry out the act in 90 minutes or his daughter dies.
Watson endeavors to warn the governor (Marsha Mason) but finds various members of her entourage involved in the scheme, and Walken’s character shadowing him at every turn. As a result, he’s forced to enlist the aid of various hotel personnel, including a grumpy shoeshine man (Charles S. Dutton) reluctantly drawn into service.
Working from a script by Patrick Sheane Duncan, at times seemingly inspired by “North by Northwest,” producer-director John Badham does a reasonably good job in keeping the action moving and clock ticking, with the protagonist overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events and, realistically, not immediately pulling a Rambo.
Still, as the action continues, the story begins to lose credibility, with the conspiracy plot becoming thick enough to look for Oliver Stone’s name in the credits. ? Though drafting a regular guy to carry out the assassination might have seemed like a good idea at the time, the plan also appears needlessly complex given how many insiders are involved.
On one level, it’s welcome that “Nick of Time” proves to be a relatively small-scale film, set almost entirely within Los Angeles’ Bonaventure Hotel. Still, the format also makes the movie feel a bit claustrophobic and humdrum compared with the sweeping bigscreen thrillers of the day.
After a string of impressively quirky roles in “Edward Scissorhands,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Benny & Joon,” Depp tries his hand at an every-day Joe with solid results, limited by the fact that we know virtually nothing about him other than that he loves his daughter.
Walken brings trademark venom to his role, while Dutton livens up the proceedings as best he can.
Tech credits are OK — with a nicely shot opening-credit sequence — but the finale proves to be a confusing, poorly edited mish-mash that’s disappointing given the buildup. Until that point, at least one can say that “Time” doesn’t exactly stand still.