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The Baltimore Sun

Time Code


Friday April 28, 2000

     Mike Figgis' "Time Code" is a notably funny and inspired execution of divide and conquer. Figgis takes four intersecting stories and splits his screen into four sections, enabling the narratives to unfold simultaneously in real time for 93 minutes.
     It's all in the name of the digital video revolution, but at the same time it's a clever way of providing crucial layering and heightening a hip, satirical take on bad old Hollywood ways in which beauty, talent and ambition collide with sex, power and drugs with the usual consequences. "Time Code" wouldn't pack nearly as much punch if it were told in traditional narrative style involving much cross-cutting nor seem nearly as provocative and illuminating.
     It takes awhile to get used to keeping track of the four separate images, but Figgis assists by pumping up the sound in whichever segment at the moment is most important. The screen is filled by 28 actors, some familiar and some not, but all of them effective.
     There are four key figures: Alex Green (Stellan Skarsgard), a film executive who's beginning to unravel when his beautiful wife, Emma (Saffron Burrows), drops by his Sunset Strip office to tell him she's leaving him despite his promise to whisk her off to a Florence or Venice without scripts, cell phones or books that can be made into movies. Despite an impending staff meeting he's almost immediately buoyed by the arrival of Rose (Salma Hayek), an actress swift to demonstrate that she will do anything to get an audition. (But no, she won't go off to Italy with him either.)
     In the meantime, Rose's rich, jealous lover, Lauren (Jeanne Tripplehorn), is sitting out Rose's visit in her limo, where she's involved in some electronic eavesdropping on the actress. As if Lauren's mounting rage weren't portentous enough, Figgis throws in a series of pretty sharp earthquakes.
     These four, all played with aplomb, interact with a raft of others, in and around Green's headquarters. The meetings are frequently uproarious, especially one in which a director (Richard Edson), mustached and wearing a cap, pitches an idea for a time-travel comedy to be called "Time Toilet," in which, for openers, human waste will splat John Wilkes Booth, thus deflecting that fatal shot at President Lincoln.
     Then there's the executive producer (Golden Brooks) pitching an idea for a serious movie on the frustrations of a group of African American actors trying to make it in Hollywood, but when pressed for her job description at Red Mullet (the actual name of Figgis' own company) she says euphemistically that she's in charge of "urban noir."
     The segmented image becomes a deft metaphor for these peoples' fragmented lives. This large cast, which includes Holly Hunter as Green's concerned business partner, working from a basic premise, improvises without a trace of self-consciousness. (Especially sly: Julian Sands as a masseur who's of course also an aspiring actor.) The multiple perspectives add dimensions to the characters, all the better to sustain the film's dark satirical tone.
     The film has a style that is at once terrifically sophisticated and carefree, and if it seems all of a piece that is because it basically is. Patrick Alexander Stewart is Figgis' wizardly cinematographer, yet Figgis operated one of the four cameras himself and composed his own score--in this instance, one that's as sleek and seductive in its shifting moods as the film is itself.
     In the film's set piece a fledgling digital video director, Ana (Mia Maestro), recently returned from Russia, where her rap musician boyfriend, Joey Z (Alessandro Nivola), was on his Walk Don't Run tour (!), makes an elaborate pitch involving Joey's latest rap, to which she hums like a human Theremin. Ana then launches into a hilariously academic lecture on among other things, Sergei Eisenstein's theory of montage, the importance of going beyond "the paradigm of collage" with digital--and yes, "the need to get back to Leibniz" while we're at it.
     The way this sequence plays out we can see that Ana is at once pretentious, sincere and just possibly talented. It's nifty and compassionate observation, and what's more, allows Figgis to send up all the technical hullabaloo surrounding his own quite satisfying experiment.

Time Code, 2000. R, for drug use, sexuality, language and a scene of violence. A Screen Gems presentation. Writer-director-producer-composer Mike Figgis. Producer Annie Stewart. Cinematographer Patrick Alexander Stewart. Costumes Donna Casey. Production designer Charlotte Malmlof. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Salma Hayek as Rose. Stellan Skarsgard as Alex Green. Jeanne Tripplehorn as Lauren Hathaway. Saffron Burrows as Emma Green.

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