I know, I know...it's a cliché and all, but there really was a moment in Ticking Clock where I was perched on the edge of my seat. Oh, but it wasn't because the movie's a "taut, psychological thriller
in the tradition of The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en!" like the back of the Blu-ray disc says. No, it was when I witnessed the most gleefully ridiculous twist in any schlocky direct-to-video thriller, ever, start to take shape. It's not a sudden, shocking reveal. Ticking Clock eases into it just slowly enough for you to wonder: "no, there's no way they'd do that. No, no...NO!" I was in awe of this what-the-hell?-ish twist that'd make Donald Kaufman green with envy. Well, for a few minutes, anyway. Then Ticking Clock settled back into being a limp, lifeless, paint-by-number direct-to-video thriller again, and I slumped back on my couch.
|GAZE INTO THE FACE OF EVIL|
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Ticking Clock stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Lewis Hicks, a true crime writer who's...well, like every other investigative reporter in every other thriller, ever. Separated from his wife. A washed-up drunk. Women half his age never really stop throwing themselves at him for some reason. Is well-connected enough that if he needs fingerprints run, a list of names matched, or a DNA comparison done, all he's gotta do is pick up the phone. Anyway, Hudson...I mean, Hicks has made a name for himself investigating murderers and serial killers. It's just that now, Hicks is ::gulp!:: part of his own story! After bumping into the blue-eyed nutjob (Neal McDonough) who played Chutes and Ladders with his girlfriend's intestines, Hicks' instincts take over. He even gets his grubby little hands on the killer's journal, which denotes in unnervingly specific detail who's next on the hit parade, complete with their names and the dates of their murders! It's just that the investigation goes a little too well, with the cops catching Hicks next to kind of a lot of dismembered corpses while this forty-something-year-old white guy he keeps ranting about is nowhere to be seen. Hicks is the chief suspect in a murder he didn't commit, and he has to track down the real killer before it's too
blah blah blah. You've seen something close enough to this eighteen quadrillion times already, so you know how the rest of the song goes.
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I kind of knew what I was getting into here. I mean, the box has Cuba Gooding, Jr. on the cover, and that's enough of a warning right there. There's a big clock in the background with butcher knives instead of hands, and right beneath it is a bunch of clock and time puns about murder and evil and whatever. What I wasn't prepared for, I guess, is how boring Ticking Clock would turn out to be. The only moment of inspiration in the entire thing is when it starts to spell out its ridiculously insane twist. Otherwise, it's a Lifetime Original Movie, only with a little more gore and a lot less Tori Spelling. Ticking Clock tries to build some intrigue by instantly revealing some key information -- you know from the very first scene that the killer is Neal McDonough (or a character he plays, I mean, not Neal himself, who I'm sure is a very nice guy) and even get a general motive -- but there are still plenty of dangling questions, like who he is, exactly, and what this all means. I guess it didn't work because until the counter ticked up to the hour mark, I was
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Everything leading up to the reveal of the twist is agonizingly routine: that overly Fincheresque prologue, reams and reams of stilted exposition, all those down-on-his-luck-investigative-reporter tropes, a 'hero' who makes one indefensibly stupid decision after another 'cause there wouldn't be a movie if he didn't, the montage where Hicks starts pasting up newspaper clippings on a whiteboard...blah. I mean, there's even one of those single-digit IQ jump scares where the living room is empty, the camera pans away, pans back to reveal NEAL MCDONOUGH standing there with a big sting in the score, and then he's gone when the camera pans back again. There's a Halloween-style bit where the killer plunges out a window, Hicks runs over to take a look, and there's nothing but little shards of glass on the ground below. ...and of course there's the thing where Hicks is chasing the murderer across a busy street, almost gets hit by a car, and slaps his hands on the hood. Any cliché you could rattle off is in here somewhere.
Um, at the same time, I don't mind clichés as long as everything around 'em is really well done, but that's not the case here so much. Ticking Clock is pretty much always slow and uninvolving. The brief spurts of action lack any energy or imagination, and the direction's frequently awkward and clumsy. Sticking with sickly, bile yellows, draining away most of the color, or just dimming the lights to hide how cheap it all looks, I don't even have pretty cinematography to distract me. Most of the characters are such stock archetypes that I don't really care about anything they do or anything that happens to 'em. Even with seasoned hands like Gooding and McDonough as the leads, the acting across the board is bafflingly amateurish. That clenched whisper Gooding uses to show how serious he is gets really grating really quickly. The only thing I really dug about his performance here is how awesomely ridiculous he looks when breaking out into a run...made me laugh so hard it was like being handed an early birthday present over and over again. Really, that and the twist are all Ticking Clock have going for it, and even that big reveal opens up so many gaping plot holes and lapses in logic that the fun of that wears off really quickly. So, yeah: Skip It.
Ticking Clock looks okay in high-def, although I guess my gripes are more with the dark, desaturated cinematography than anything else. With such bland direction and lifeless photography, it doesn't really matter what kind of digital cameras are being lugged around. Detail, crispness, clarity, and all that are decent for a shiny, new high-def release, although there are enough softly-tinged shots -- especially early on -- that I felt like I was watching something on cable. I couldn't spot any sputtering or stuttering in the authoring, and it's a pretty safe bet that Ticking Clock looks about as good on Blu-ray as it ever will. It just...y'know, looks an awful lot like a really low budget, direct-to-video thriller.
The AVC encode on Ticking Clock is given plenty of headroom, creeping over into the second layer of this BD-50 disc. There's no matting or anything this time around...straightahead 1.78:1.
Ticking Clock scores a lossless soundtrack and everything -- 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio, even! -- but it's every bit as sloppy as the movie itself. The flick's backed by a Casio keyboard score that occasionally belts
out a low-frequency snarl but mostly sounds tinny and lightweight. The recording of the dialogue is wildly uneven, sometimes dropping down way too low in the mix, other times heaping on a bizarre echo or reverb that doesn't match with the rest of the scene at all...ack. It very frequently has a harshly digital bent to it too. The surrounds get a moderate amount of use, including some directionality to the dialogue, swirling voices during the putting-it-all-together pensive moments, and a bunch of atmospheric effects, but they don't amount to much. There's also some hiss and other assorted background noise lurking in the mix, but I'm sure that's just more lousy recording work. Well below average for a new high-def release.
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Also piled on here is a second DTS-HD Master Audio track -- this time in French! -- as well as subtitle streams in English (traditional and SDH) and French.
Nothing. I mean, unless you count trailers for other Sony discs, I guess.
The Final Word
Ticking Clock is an amateurishly produced and mostly routine cat-and-mouse thriller that bobs around lifelessly in the water for an hour straight until it's buoyed by a batshit insane twist. It's so cacklingly ridiculous that for a few minutes there, I was genuinely thrilled about seeing what Ticking Clock would throw out next...aaaaand then it got boring again. Skip It.