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Movie Review of Time Code

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After getting burned to a crisp by studio hotshots, Mike Figgis sticks it to the biz with a quick and dirty use of state-of-the-art digital technology.

In his new film "Time Code," four skeins of a sour Hollywood yarn unreel simultaneously in real time on a quadruple-split screen.

As Jeanne Tripplehorn seethes in her limo at the wantonness of lover/wannabe actress Salma Hayek (who's sleeping with boozy studio founder Stellan Skarsgard), his depressed wife Saffron Burrows mutters to doctor Glenne Headly and security guard Danny Huston snorts coke in the rest room with actress Leslie Mann. Got that?

Shot in Los Angeles last November in a single continuous take with four digital videocams, the four partly improvised subplots appear unedited for an hour and a half, coming together with a bang - nobody calls 911 - toward the end.

If all this sounds as if one needs a fly's multifaceted eye to appreciate, think again. It's surprisingly watchable, even rather engaging, though most of the 28 actors, who had to be responsible for their own hair, makeup and costume, have bloodless 2-D roles.

Some, such as Holly Hunter, Kyle MacLachlan and the talented Ms. Headley appear almost subliminally, while Julian Sands, except for announcing himself as a gladiator-masseur from Roman Springs, is mostly glimpsed kneading feet and muscles. Maybe it's because she's supposed to be melancholy, but Ms. Burrows, the director's wife, displays the least presence on screen.

While the MTV generation may find all this parallel action just business as usual, Mr. Figgis helps the rest of us mortals follow the action by directing our eyes to a quadrant through sound manipulation.

"Time Code" is being touted by some as revolutionary, but we saw the continous camera work in 10-minute takes in "Rope" (1948), the improv in John Cassavetes' work and split screens from silent filmmakers, Norman Jewison and Andy Warhol, among others.

For the open-minded, this is worth seeing for the way Mr. Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") brings off quadraphonic cinema, skewers the pretentiousness of conventional production and makes it (at least for a time) mesmerizing if not very human.

For those partial to the old retro form of storytelling with film, lights, retakes, script and one screen, my favorite Figgis film is still 1988's stylish "Stormy Monday" with Tommy Lee Jones, Melanie Griffith, Sting and Sean Bean.
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