Ticking Clock is a thoroughly mediocre film. It features bored actors going through the motions of a standard issue serial killer thriller. For folks with more than a passing familiarity with the genre, there is one saving grace that will at least keep them engaged during the film's running time. I'm talking about the killer's unusual method of dispatching his victims. Without spoiling anything, let's just say he's quite the planner.
Lewis Hicks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is an investigative journalist whose personal life happens to be on the rocks. He has a disgruntled ex-wife (Danielle Nicolet) and a son who he doesn't get to see often enough. He also has a new girlfriend who is getting tired of playing second fiddle to a wife who isn't supposed to be in the picture. Cue the killer (Neal McDonough) and his sharp problem-solving skills. When Hicks visits his lady friend to make up for an earlier argument, he finds her in bed with her insides on her outside. Hicks sees the killer and gives chase but is unable to catch him as he seemingly vanishes into thin air. It's a good thing he left behind his trusty murder journal for Hicks to find. A quick perusal makes two things clear: the killer has killed before and he will kill again.
You see, the killer's journal lovingly documents the dates and names of past and future victims. As we marvel at the audacity of somebody setting a slaughter schedule, Hicks takes this information to the cops. Some are on his side (Dane Rhodes) while others (Yancey Arias) are still sore over past unflattering exposés. It is at this point that Hicks decides to single-handedly save the people who are listed in the journal but haven't had the misfortune of meeting the killer yet. As I said before, this all sounds like every other serial killer movie you've ever seen. The only exception is that schedule which the killer follows so religiously. His ability to really stick to it indicates cojones and...well...something else I can't get into for risk of spoiling the entire film.
At this point, you probably have a few ideas about how a man could plan murders in the future with such certainty. Before you go dismissing them as silly or contrived, I implore you to indulge yourself because this film will demand the same suspension of disbelief from you. The killer's central gimmick is admittedly clever but it is unintentionally revealed far too early in the film. At one point, Hicks uncovers some indisputable forensic evidence that should force him to broaden his horizons but instead he just discards it as an anomaly. Unfortunately the audience is too smart for that. I had the killer's identity and M.O. figured out fairly early in the film and you will too. After that, you have to wait for Hicks to slowly get to the same realization in his own sweet time.
Beyond the general slowness of Hicks' character, there are plenty of lapses in logic and contrivances to be found in the film. Characters do silly things so they can be just in time to either get killed or to miss the killer in the act. There's also the curious fact that practically every single female character (including his angry ex) seems to be inexplicably attracted to Hicks. Besides being distracting, it does Hicks a disservice since desperate is a much better fit for him than dashing. The final blow is the ending which breaks the film's internal logic to set up a sunshine-y scenario that would make Spielberg cry tears of joy.
The performances are almost beside the point since the film demands so little of the actors. Cuba hardly leaves an impression as the frazzled journalist while McDonough gets to have a little more fun (only a little) as the methodical killer. Ultimately this is director Ernie Barbarash's show but he only seems interested in putting the characters through the paces of a genre-bending tale. It's too bad that the bend is visible from a mile away.