In the middle of Out Of Time, there's a tense half-hour in which Denzel Washington, playing a small-town Florida sheriff, finds himself tracking a trio of con artists while trying to bury evidence that links him to their crime. In the tradition of classic "cornered" heroes like Ray Milland in The Big Clock, Washington maps out all the angles and makes up clever excuses on the spot. Given that Washington is one of the brightest, most charismatic actors of his generation, watching him think and charm his way out of jams is a pleasure, but the cat-and-mouse heart of Out Of Time is tiny in proportion to the rest of the film. Director Carl Franklin has shown a sure hand with crime thrillers like One False Move and Devil In A Blue Dress, but working here from a script by first-timer Dave Collard, Franklin is too dully literal. The film introduces the key players–including Washington's ex-wife and colleague Eva Mendes, his girlfriend Sanaa Lathan, and his girlfriend's husband Dean Cain–with clumsy bits of info-dropping dialogue along the lines of "How's your husband, the ex-pro quarterback?" With all the methodically detailed positioning, it takes almost half the movie for the plot to kick in, which happens once Cain and Lathan fake their own deaths and frame Washington for the crime (after securing from him an advance on potential life-insurance earnings). Given how clear it is from the start that Lathan is the femme fatale in this neo-noir, the slow build becomes grueling. While spinning his wheels, Franklin does little with the mood or space of his Florida resort milieu, a low-rent tourist spot where Washington is more of a benign authority figure than a real lawman. Instead, he gooses Out Of Time's energy by overusing Alex Carter in a comic-relief role as the drunken coroner who helps the hero skirt the law. Amid excessive conventionality, Mendes' performance as a detective investigating her ex-husband stands out. She sees through his half-truths, while still clinging to a thread of residual trust, and the tension between investigative instincts and romantic illusions makes her a strong foil for Washington's frenzied ass-covering. The two of them together, playing police-procedural dodgeball, make for a good movie. Too bad there are other people on the team, and that the pre-game show runs so long.
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