Three men attempt to rob a bank at 8:30 in the morning. That’s the focal event of 7 Minutes, and its title comes from the amount of time the robbery takes, though based on the multiple shots of clock faces and the liberal use of slow motion, the measurement seems approximate. The movie, of course, runs longer anyway. Writer-director Jay Martin jumps back minutes, hours, days, and at one point even years to fill in the details of the incident: who’s perpetrating it, why, and how they might be stopped.
Because the technique of beginning with an attention-grabbing incident before flashing back to its origins has become a relatively common structure in movies (and comics and television), the bigger time jumps in 7 Minutes feel more audacious than the smaller ones. While some early flashbacks have only contextual cues about when they take place, one specifically identifies itself as three years back, when Sam (Luke Mitchell) and Kate (Leven Rambin), one of the robbers and his pregnant girlfriend in the movie’s present, were a star high school football player and an adoring cheerleader, respectively. The movie charts their mostly offscreen transition from promising teenagers to scraping-by townies in a few minutes, treating them like characters out of a Springsteen song, or at least a catchy Killers knockoff of a Springsteen song.
The stories behind Sam’s brother Mike (Jason Ritter) and their friend Owen (Zane Holtz), though, have less heartache. They also traffic in a misplaced sense of criminal mischief, more of a piece with the freeze-frame introductions that flash characters’ names on the screen; at one particularly off-key moment, the movie suddenly veers into gross-out drug-deal-gone-wrong slapstick that feels particularly late-’90s. Though 7 Minutes does offer an impressive array of backstories for a film that initially appears to be about three semi-interchangeable guys, most of those backstories are still dominated by clichés: There’s a man desperate to help his family, a fuck-up brother of a more straitlaced protagonist, and a sad sack who lives with his mother. The few surprises tend to err on the side of sudden, ugly violence and/or the threat of same.
Without more consistently compelling characters (Kris Kristofferson, welcome as he is in a glorified cameo, unfortunately doesn’t count), it’s up to the movie’s style to close any entertainment gaps. Martin, a storyboard artist and music-video director making his feature debut, certainly juggles the time-skipping (including a few flashbacks within other flashbacks) with clarity. But he also assembles many of the movie’s conversations through relentless and pointless cutting and/or panning, as if humans speaking to each other is the most tedious activity imaginable, in desperate need of amping up. To be fair, in this case that’s often true, with rote musings about how “that whole American dream… that ship has sailed” and reliable dialogue-starters like “You ever wish that things were different?” To be even fairer, Martin wrote those lines himself—or at least repurposed them from the dozens of other movies that already used them.
Despite its unconvincing seriousness mixing poorly with its unconvincing dark comedy, 7 Minutes proves difficult to despise outright; it’s watchably swift and somewhat engaging in the moment. What it most noticeably lacks is a particular voice. Technically speaking, it has many points of view; the various flashbacks follow all three friends, plus Kate and several others. Practically speaking, though, those points of view don’t form anything: not a fun genre riff, not a statement, and not a movie that exceeds its demo-reel trappings.