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  Nick of Time Beat The Clock
Year: 1995
Director: John Badham
Stars: Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, Charles S. Dutton, Peter Strauss, Marsha Mason, Gloria Reuben, Bill Smitrovich, G.D. Spradlin, Roma Maffia, Courtney Chase, Yul Vazquez, Edith Diaz, Armando Ortega, C.J. Bau, Cynthena Sanders
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: Gene Watson (Johnny Depp) is travelling to Los Angeles with his young daughter Lynn (Courtney Chase) for an important business meeting. However, as they disembark at the station, they are unaware that there are a couple of shady characters watching the passengers, looking for someone they can use. The man, "Mr Smith" (Christopher Walken), settles on a pair of kissing twentysomethings, or he does until he gets close to them and realises they are French. Gene, on the other hand, is ideal and he shows him a policeman's badge to persuade him to accompany him outside: Gene has no choice but to follow...

And that's his first mistake in this neat thriller that featured a gimmick it could really have gone overboard with: the whole film takes place in real time, so every so often director John Badham gives us a closeup of a clock or watch to ensure we know that time is running out. Running out for Gene, that is, and his daughter who is essentially kidnapped while he is given a gun and told to carry out an assassination at a political conference in a nearby hotel. Mr Smith is the one who makes the order, and in the early stages we can believe he is and his accomplice "Mrs Jones" (Roma Maffia) are working alone.

After all, it's not such a great idea, is it, to allow a perfect stranger to carry out your evil schemes? Although conspiracy theory history has a list of fall guys who were set up for their notoriety as the man who pulled the trigger on the President, politicians or celebrities, and it turns out by the end that all is not as it seems, as far as the staging goes. Gene, as played by Depp, is a harrassed everyman who would fit right into an Alfred Hitchcock plot, and the impression from Patrick Sheane Duncan's script is that allusions such as these are precisely what he has in mind.

While a perspiring and anxious Depp proves himself ideal for this role, a lot of the amusement comes from Walken in the manner he is forever turning up when Gene thinks he's shaken him off, as impossible to be rid of as his own shadow. Walken is a past master at this kind of thing, and his violent and intensely insistent portrayal goes quite some way to keeping the tension simmering as Gene tries to get to the Governor (Marsha Mason) to warn her of the plot against her - we're in no doubt that being a decent fellow he would never resort to carrying out the killing.

Badham keeps his camera tight on the action, lending it a claustrophobia, although he's not above amusing silliness like a "dream" sequence that presumably was included to provide more action for the trailer, but has no bearing on the rest of the film. Interestingly, while it turns out that there is indeed a far-reaching conspiracy involved, with even the Governor's security men part of it, the people who Gene finds he can rely on are those lower down the social ladder. Essentially it's the service industry who save his bacon, whether it's one-legged shoeshine man Charles S. Dutton or his network of workers who offer back up to Gene's predicament. Perhaps the undervalued Nick of Time's feverishly paranoid worldview is not to be taken entirely seriously, but it's solid entertainment which musters a fair amount of suspense: professional and slick, which is not to be sneezed at. Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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John Badham  (1939 - )

British-born, American-raised director of mostly medium-sized hits. He progressed from television in the 1970s to direct The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, but his second film was the blockbuster Saturday Night Fever. After that came a remake of Dracula, Blue Thunder, classic Cold War sci-fi WarGames, Short Circuit, Stakeout, the underrated The Hard Way, Nick of Time and Drop Zone, amongst others. He moved back into TV in the 2000s.

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