A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Nick of Time is a suspense thriller that gets off to a nonstop start and never lets up. A mild-mannered widower is randomly picked at a train station to assassinate the California governor. If he doesn't do it, the conspirators will kill his young daughter, whom they hold hostage. Tension mounts throughout and the threat of violence looms every minute -- against the little girl, against the governor, against those who try to help the man. Shots fly. A woman is killed at point-blank range. A bodyguard throws himself over a potential shooting victim. Blood is seen. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "c--ksucker," and "bitch."
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What's the story?
Gene (Johnny Depp) is a mild-mannered accountant and widower traveling with his small daughter. In NICK OF TIME, a canny hired killer named Smitty (Christopher Walken) randomly selects Gene at a Los Angeles train station to carry out an assassination plot against the governor of California (Marsha Mason), who is making a campaign stop in a nearby hotel. Gene doesn't look like he would hurt a fly but Smitty and his cohort (Roma Maffia) assure him that they will kill his little girl if he doesn't comply. They give him a pistol and a picture of the governor and a strict timetable. Lest he think he can get help, Smitty follows him closely -- alongside his taxi to the hotel, into the men's room, to the bar, and when he stops to shine his shoes -- threatening Gene all along the way. Gene tries to alert the governor's security detail only to discover that they're in on the elaborate plot, which goes all the way up to her husband and the wealthy donors who are no longer happy with the way she's running things. Gene alerts the governor's aide but that just gets her killed. A sympathetic disabled veteran (Charles S. Dutton) enlists some courageous hotel workers to switch clothes with Gene so he can personally warn the governor, but she remains skeptical. Increasingly desperate and daring, Gene attends the event where the murder is to take place but fires shots at the ceiling and at the governor's betrayers instead of at her, forcing her own men to shoot at her. A newsman reports that the plot goes all the way to the top just as the wealthy donor who put it in motion steps into his limo and drives away.
Is it any good?
Like Speed and Phone Booth, two other nonstop suspense action movies about avoiding disasters plotted by evildoers, Nick of Time moves with clockwork precision and momentum. Unlike the protagonist in Phone Booth, Gene is an innocent who steps out of docile fatherhood and accountant-hood into an alternate universe of crime, corruption, and special interest that has nothing to do with him and his innocent daughter. The venality and political cynicism of The Manchurian Candidate was surely a model for this lesser movie, but viewers may admire the echoes anyway.
Depp does a good job as a man torn by his instincts to do all he can to protect his daughter despite his naturally recessive personality. Walken has a blast as the whip-smart assassin who thinks of himself as a "people person." After Walken outlines the situation, Depp says, "You're outta your mind," and Walken deadpans, "What's your point?" The movie passes far beyond the bounds of credibility many times, and once the action starts it maintains a pretty one-note level of tension, but older teens who can take the strain may be willing to go along for the ride.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why political acts and policies might cause people to resort to violence. How does the movie suggest that the governor has made enemies of powerful and wealthy people?
How realistic does this movie seem? Do you think it makes sense for the bad guys to hire someone who may not have what it takes to kill someone?
What's the appeal of movies with lots of peril and tension?
- In theaters: November 27, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: October 24, 2017
- Cast: Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, Charles S. Dutton, Roma Maffia
- Director: John Badham
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for violence and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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