Friday, September 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #12--Nick of Time (1995)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Johnny is going to be late for his next appointment.
© Paramount Pictures
In Nick of Time, Johnny Depp plays Gene Watson, a public accountant returning from the funeral of his soon-to-be ex-wife with their 6-year-old daughter Lynn (Courtney Chase). Spotted in the crowd in Los Angeles's Union Station, he is chosen by Mr. Smith (Christopher Walken) to assassinate California's governor (Marsha Mason). After snatching Lynn, Mr. Smith gives Mr. Watson 90 minutes to do the deed: Kill the governor, he demands, or your daughter is dead.

Has Johnny gone Square?
Two types of headlines dominated the reviews for Nick of Time: Johnny Depp can't open a movie on his own, and Johnny Depp can't play "normal."

Johnny's always said that his career was built on a series of box office failures. Up to this point, most of his films--whether liked by critics or not--didn't make enough money at the box office for people to notice them for long. Who cares as long as it's a good movie? 

In Nick of Time, Johnny does so many things he hadn't before: With no odd costume, make-up, accent, or fantastical story, he plays a straight-laced accountant and father in an action/thriller. I think it was too much for critics to take, and they translated this move as an attempt to go commercial and become an action star.
Johnny never chooses roles based on commercial success. He goes for the experience. Here, he had the chance to work with Christopher Walken. (Yay!) and be directed by John Badham (director of Saturday Night Fever, another good movie). Reading the script kept him on the edge of his seat and reminded him of an old-fashioned Alfred Hitchcock story. Can you blame him for going for it?

My review isn't that bad.
My own family gave Nick of Time mixed reviews: My sister got wrapped up in the story and felt for Johnny's situation, but my dad found the whole thing too unbelievable. I'm somewhere in the middle: It's a respectable movie. Watching it again for Johnny Kitties, I was struck by how tense I felt throughout. Shot in real time before "24" made it popular, the use of handheld cameras amid crowded, busy scenes gives a raw, documentary-like feel, as if you're really there, witnessing what's happening. Marsha Mason's performance as Governor Grant is great, and I love Charles S. Dutton as Huey, the shoe-shine man. (In a key role, he offers some comic relief with some great lines.) And, really, you can't go wrong with Christopher Walken when you need a crazy bad guy. 

Johnny's right: The story does have that old Hitchock feel to it. But, I admit, there are a few corny moments and lines that make it seem more like it was a TV Movie of the Week to me. It's too neat-and-tidy in some places, and there are lots of shots of clocks to constantly remind you of the time. I caught Nick of Time on TV once, and it had an alternate ending that wrapped things up even more neatly than that theatrical release. I can't tell you what it is without ruining it, but it might have solidified my comparison.

"Ninety minutes, Mr. Watson!"
© Paramount Pictures
Maybe the PG-13 rating was the ultimate problem. At one point in the film, Johnny falls 90 feet into a fountain below. Someone asked him which was scarier: Doing the stunt or Christopher Walken? Of course, he responded, "Christopher Walken, definitely!" Really, if you've got Christopher Walken as the bad guy, go for the R. 

While Christopher Walken was my favorite ingredient in Nick of Time, I think Johnny does a fine job as our accountant hero. Like my sister, I found him completely believable--always trying to get out of the situation and ultimately focused on keeping his daughter safe. Johnny has a knack for getting you to care for his characters, whoever they are, without having to do much. Director John Badham agrees, "Johnny has a basic sweetness to him. He's a classic movie actor, like the true greats--Paul Newman, Gary Cooper, even Steve McQueen. Minimalist in approach, but extremely honest. Johnny is that kind of actor. He has this great ability to be in a scene where he may do nothing, yet he establishes his presence on the screen." It's true!

The Kitties get ready to race against the clock.
I picked my favorite scene here: Mr. Smith (Norman) and his accomplice, Ms. Jones (Roma Maffia/Ashes), are scanning the floor of Union Station to find someone to blackmail into committing murder. Meanwhile, Gene Watson (Gordon) is trying to protect his daughter (Mini) from some pestering rollerbladers (B.J. and Simon) who were bothering her while he was on the phone. As he walks away, he knocks over the ashtray can to get rid of them, giving Lynn a valuable lesson, which always makes me laugh: "That's why you should always wear a helmet and kneepads because you never know when you're going to fall down and go boom." The ruckus startles some bystanders (The Mother Kitty, Comet, and Lily) and gets the bad guys' attention.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #12--Nick of Time (1995) [June 25, 2011]

What's Next? 
Johnny's a Dead Man. (Wait, I'm not sure I like how that sounds....)

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