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Time Code

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Movie quad: (clockwise) Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Saffron Burrows with Kyle MacLachlan, and Stellan Skarsgard get experimental.

2000, Screen Gems
All Rights Reserved

It's not unusual for a movie to incite a buzz among cinephiles; it is unusual, however, for the buzz to focus almost solely on the technology behind the movie, glossing over its plot and actors like a dinner guest skipping the limburger. When recommending "Time Code" to me, a local media editor gushed over the movie's rich digital offerings, adding that "the plot's not too much of a distraction, either."

Mike Figgis' digital schizophrenic Hollywood insider flick "Time Code" has two basic personalities: technology and plot, which are then ruptured even further by the four distinct views on the screen. Each screen cell follows a different set of characters who fade in and out of the action occurring in neighboring cells, eventually converging into a climactic mass of personalities as the movie explodes. If the explanation is hard to follow, the movie is not.

Mike Figgis, creator of the heady world of "Leaving Las Vegas," has been converted to digital; he's pounded the last nail in the coffin of celluloid-based film and resurrected himself as the Jesus of the digital filmmaking age. Armed with four digital cameras each shooting a continuous 93 minute stream of film, an ensemble cast wearing synchronized watches willing to improvise 93 minutes of action, and a fairly staid soap opera-ish tale of the backstabbing Hollywood filmmaking scene, Figgis produces what he calls "quadraphonic cinema," in which "multiple stories are stripped to their purest essence." For the viewer, this translates into 372 minutes of movie for the price of 93!

The technology behind "Time Code" is, indeed, stunning. Without so much as a tiny cut, the audience is treated to four points of view ducking and weaving in and out of the central plot line. For the first five minutes the effect is confusing; not wanting to miss anything, the viewer is determined to monitor all four cells of the movie screen. This is an impossible and unnecessary task, as Figgis essentially draws our attention from one cell to the next via a masterfully crafted rising and falling soundtrack used in conjunction with subtle blurs, mutes, sedated action and the occasional unifying earthquake shaking things up on all four screens. Figgis taps the senses well, careful not to over-stimulate while breaking convention after convention of mainstream filmmaking: no cuts, omnipresent points of view, real time, pure improvisation and lesbian action.

"Time Code's" other personality — its plot — unfortunately does not match the innovation of its technology. While witty as a biting send-up of sleazy Hollywood types, the movie basically rehashes the crux of Robert Altman's "The Player" and "Short Cuts," never really stepping into uncharted territory.

Still, there are details outside of the purely technological that keep the viewer connected and amused: the ignored and terrified production assistant; Salma Hayek as a very convincing hack actress; a sex scene enacted behind the screening of a sex scene, with the passion of the latter far outdoing the passion of the former; the white-boy "musician" rapping a movie pitch and later casually breakdancing on the sidewalk; the ever-present masseuse; and the movie's own self-referential aspects, cajoling us into taking the whole charade much less seriously. Stellan Skarsgärd ("Breaking the Waves," "My Son the Fanatic") as the stock alcoholic, sexually driven film producer, essentially calls the movie we are watching "pretentious crap," blowing Figgis' digital-God cover in a way that relieves any art-house tension we may be experiencing.

"Time Code" is not, however, crap. Discussing the film, Hayek says that "the experimental quality of it really turned [her] on." She may just be easily aroused, but for fans of cutting-edge technology, synchronization and quality improvisational acting, the movie is a pioneer. Seen primarily for its digital escapades, with a plot that entertains without overly distracting, "Time Code" has the capacity to turn you on four times over.

Filmfodder Grade: A-

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