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Operation Withdrawn: Sanaa Lathan takes Denzel Washington for a wad of cash with a phony story about a terminal illness in 'Out of Time.'

Miami Vices

As a rogue cop, Denzel Washington fights to stay one step ahead of the law in 'Out of Time'

By Richard von Busack

Denzel Washington needs to be encouraged never to play anyone on the nice side of a rogue from now on. The droop of Washington's left eyelid--making for what looks like a perpetual raised right eyebrow--complements characters who aren't quite on the level. As an actor with a genuine (and understandable) interest in moral uplift, Washington feels the need to play inspirational characters. But he's so much more fun when he's playing slouches, and maybe he's most truly a movie star when he's being bad.

Carl Franklin directs Washington in Out of Time, an engaging thriller concerning a police chief in a one-street town of Banyan Key, Fla. It is not a demanding job. Washington's Matt Whitlock is competent (he nabbed some serious drug dealers recently, along with a stack of their money), but he slacks off a lot, drinking beer in his office. We may infer from a framed picture on the wall that Matt inherited the job from his father.

Currently, the easygoing Whitlock is in the midst of two mortal sins: he's in love with a still-married woman named Ann (Sanaa Lathan), and he covets a large bundle of cash stashed in the police locker. It isn't long before the cash ends up in the hands of the woman. She has a tragic story that smells like leftover tuna: terminal cancer, you know, and an experimental Swiss clinic, if only she had the money for it. Right after Ann obtains the embezzled moolah, her house blows up, leaving two charred corpses, no money and an angry DEA, which would like its cash right now, please.

Whitlock goes on the run to find out what happened, while being pursued by his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Alex (Eva Mendes), who works for the Miami PD. Mendes is tricked out like Raquel Welch in stacked-up hair and sleeveless blouses, although, tragically, she's not yet a better actress than Welch. Still, her coolness is a visual contrast to the phosphorescent glitter of Lathan's sweat in the later scenes when she's gone bad.

This is Franklin's best movie. Despite bravura work by Don Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress and some intrepid moments in One False Move, Franklin has never been so successful in offering up a Hollywood-style slice of cake. Working from a crafty script by first-timer Dave Collard, Franklin engineers twists and turns that consistently outwit the audience. The colorblindness of Out of Time is another plus; it makes the film seem less like it's going over familiar ground. (Only one scene jokes on race: Whitlock is fingered by an old white lady eyewitness who believes that all suspects, like all cats, are black at night.)

Obviously, this isn't a profound movie, but when Ebert and Roeper contrast it unfavorably with Clint Eastwood's portentous Mystic River, I feel moved to defend it. Out of Time is clever, sturdily crafted work, and it is much funnier than the posters or the previews would indicate. The humor is due to Washington's fulfillment of Hitchcock's comment that an audience will root for a rogue, as long as he's good at his job.

Out of Time (R; 104 min.), directed by Carl Franklin, written by David Collard, photographed by Theo van de Sande and starring Denzel Washington, Sanaa Lathan and Eva Mendes, plays at selected theaters countywide.

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From the October 8-15, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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