JANUARY 5, 2011
For the half hour or so that it’s a horror movie, Ticking Clock isn’t particularly great, but it’s watchable, coasting on the novel concept of seeing Cuba Gooding Jr in a Seven wannabe. But screenwriter John Turman apparently couldn’t figure out what kind of movie he was writing so he kept switching gears, culminating in a completely inane 3rd act twist that’s so stupid it approaches genius (oddly, this is the same issue I had with Hulk, which he also wrote). Add in the gloriously over the top happy ending (which includes a mind-exploding plot hole) and you have a movie that both David Fincher and Jonathan Demme should sue for defamation by association or something (the synopsis compares the film to Seven and Silence of the Lambs).
I’m actually sort of baffled why the filmmakers would start the movie like this, considering where it was going. We open on a blood soaked room and a woman with a slit throat in front of her screaming infant. Later another woman’s entrails are seen sliding out of her fresh corpse. Grim stuff, and nothing that seemed out of place considering that the movie seemed to be about this investigative journalist (Cuba) tracking a killer, played by the great Neal McDonough.
But something was amiss. For starters, Neal didn’t seem to want to kill Cuba, and they kept meeting up (and fighting) too often; they have big shoving brawls twice in the film’s first 25 minutes or so – hardly what you’d expect from a serial killer movie, especially one “in the vein of Seven”, where they never even SEE their killer until the film’s end (not counting the little ‘photographer’ bit). So he’s losing his menace before the halfway point, and worse, he has his victims already chosen, which just reminded me of Untraceable. And you never want to be reminded of Untraceable.
Well (spoiler) as it turns out, he’s a goddamn time traveler from the future* (seriously), and he is killing the folks who made his life a living hell when he was a kid (his abusive mother, the DA who put him into foster care, etc) in hopes that his life can turn out better. And why doesn’t he kill Cuba? Because Cuba ends up becoming a “Big Brother” to the present day version, who is trying a non-killing way of improving the kid’s life by taking him to the zoo and asking him what he wants to be when he grows up. Granted, it’s sort of a unique twist and not even a terrible idea, but presenting it as a twist in a movie that starts off like a grim serial killer tale? It’s just too damn jarring for my tastes. Plus the logic doesn’t quite hold up – Cuba was only getting involved with the kid in order to solve the murder case, which wouldn’t exist if McDonough wasn’t time traveling, something he knows how to do after being encouraged to follow his dreams of working with numbers and such... an encouragement he got from Cuba.
And that ENDING! There’s a big showdown on the roof and McDonough accidentally kills his younger self, which makes him AND the victim he was about to kill disappear. Which sort of makes sense in a time travel way – if he’s dead then obviously he never grows up to be Neal McDonough, and the girl wouldn’t have been kidnapped/tied to an electric box. But then it gets ridiculous – Cuba drives around and sees the other people who died in the movie still living (again, this makes some sense), but with a big “aw, shucks!” smile on his face, instead of one to suggest “Holy shit this is freaky” – he takes the whole time travel thing surprisingly well, actually. And then – WHAT THE FUCK? – he sees the kid, still alive! They apply the “if there was no killer he wouldn’t have been on the roof in the first place” concept to him too? How in holy hell does that work? Plus his house looks pretty shitty, so I guess his life is going to suck again and he will once again become a time traveling serial killer.
It’s also a wholly idiotic movie from start to finish with regards to Cuba’s behavior. He has the killer’s journal with the names of the next victims, but yet he doesn’t bother to tell the cops the names, even when he becomes a suspect himself. Instead he has his cop friend look into evidence off the record, despite the fact that another cop is the one investigating. He also has about 89,000 friends who owe him a favor, however none of them can help with the fact that his name is spelled either Louis or Lewis depending on the scene.
Speaking of the sloppy filmmaking, the movie contains one of the most glaringly terrible sound edits I’ve ever seen. Cuba’s in his house talking to the cop, who says something snooty and leaves. As he does, a piece of film score kicks in, all dramatic like. Then Cuba exits the house, and as they cut from the interior to the exterior, the music completely cuts out, even though it had just started. There are also a number of baffling establishing shots of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, even though the movie takes place in Louisiana.
So again we have a movie that tries to be too many things and ends up being lousy at all of them. Frequency had a similar scenario, but it worked because the movie was all about the father-son relationship from the get-go. This goes from horror to procedural thriller to sci-fi nonsense to a fullblown Hallmark movie, tied together by a falling-star actor who has long since given up putting any effort into his performances. And it’s a shame, because the film is directed by Ernie Barbarash, who made a trio of movies that exceeded my expectations (Cube Zero, Stir Of Echoes 2, and They Wait, a J-horror esque chiller with the lovely Jaime King). Seeing his name on the credits actually enticed me to rent it, but this is hardly another surprise win for the guy. Way to go dude, you’ve worked with the much despised Uwe Boll and Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr, and somehow the Boll movie was way better. If life was an Xbox game, you’d assume that would be one of the hardest Achievements to earn.
What say you?
*Hilariously enough, I joked "This movie's from the future!" early on (long before the time travel element was introduced), because it takes place in April of 2011. Spooooky.