Strong perfs by up-and-comer Jay Baruchel (recently a scene-stealer in “Knocked Up”) and vet Randy Quaid compel interest throughout the relatively fleeting “Real Time,” a stripped-to-essentials Canadian-produced drama about a deep-in-debt gambler who’s taken for a ride by a philosophical hit man. Basically a two-hander, writer-director Randall Cole’s tightly focused indie feels stagebound, with most of the “action” unfolding inside the hit man’s Lincoln Town Car during extended spins through the mean streets of Hamilton, Ontario. But the pic takes some interesting detours before reaching a genuinely surprising final destination, and may find receptive auds on homevid and cable byways.
Andy (Baruchel), a compulsive gambler and hard-luck loser, owes too much money to people he insults too frequently. One bleak afternoon, Reuban (Quaid), an Aussie trigger-man, grabs him off the street and breaks the bad news: One of Andy’s more irate creditors has decided to permanently cancel both debt and debtor.
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The good news: Reuban, a sternly professional but not-uncaring fellow, has taken an avuncular interest in the chronic screw-up. And so he’s willing to grant Andy a stay of execution — for about 75 minutes — to allow the younger man to make his peace before the big bang.
Unfolding more or less in — yes, you guessed it! — “real time,” the pic begins with Andy angrily blaming everyone but himself for his bad luck, and sadly unable to think of anyone who would care about wishing him a last goodbye. In a calm, measured tone not unlike that of a tough-loving therapist, Reuban encourages his captive to take full measure of his misspent life, and to not waste what little time he has left on whiny rants or self-rationalizations. Even in the face of death, however, Andy falls back on bad habits.
A few supporting players — including, especially, Jayne Eastwood as Andy’s warily hospitable grandmother — contribute character-illuminating scenes. Basically, however, the pic is a showcase for Quaid (sporting a convincing accent while keeping his cards close to the vest) and Baruchel (as a slightly scuzzier version of the street hustler he played in the 2005 Canadian indie “Fetching Cody”). Actors develop a credibly edgy give-and-take while suggesting a intriguing backstory — and limited future — for the characters and their relationship. Final revelation seems a bit of a dramatic cheat, but Quaid sells it through sheer force of acting skill.
Aptly chosen pop songs — including tunes by, among others, Harry Nilsson (“Without You”) and the Tragically Hip (“Scared”) — enhance the mood whenever Reuban switches on his car radio.