Director : Jon Avnet
Screenplay : Gary Scott Thompson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Al Pacino (Dr. Jack Gramm), Alicia Witt (Kim Cummings), Leelee Sobieski (Lauren Douglas), Amy Brenneman (Shelly Barnes), William Forsythe (Special Agent Frank Parks), Deborah Kara Unger (Carol Johnson), Benjamin McKenzie (Mike Stempt), Neal McDonough (Jon Forster), Leah Cairns (Sara Pollard), Stephen Moyer (Guy LaForge), Christopher Redman (Jeremy Guber), Brendan Fletcher (Johnny D'Franco)
88 Minutes is an absurd, immediately forgettable real-time thriller with too many red herrings and a preposterous ending that tosses whatever credibility the story had left right over the edge (above which a potential victim appropriately dangles). In the midst of it all is Al Pacino, a once-great actor who has been steadily sliding over the past five or six years (the sole exception being his self-mocking performance in Ocean's Thirteen). Perhaps by starring in an unabashedly commercial genre movie he thought he could grab a piece of the mainstream and maintain relevance, but he would be wise to select better projects. This is straight-to-video material with a too-healthy budget.
Similarly, the City Council in Seattle might want to think twice about giving too many movie permits; with Untraceable earlier this year and now 88 Minutes, the city once known best for rain, coffee, and grunge rock is now apparently the go-to place for uniquely twisted serial killers. The ostensible baddie this time around is Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), whose MO is tying women upside down by one leg, raping them, and then cutting them until they bleed to death. He is put behind bars thanks largely to the expert testimony of Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino), an arrogant forensic psychiatrist who works with the FBI and spends his free time boozing, womanizing, and keeping his own demons in the closet.
Nine years later, on the day that Forster is scheduled for execution, a copycat murder takes place. Or is it? Did Gramm perhaps finger the wrong guy? Is the real killer still loose and an innocent man in jail? Perhaps, but it is also quickly obvious that there is a massive conspiracy afoot once Gramm receives an anonymous phone call in which an ominous voice informs him that he has 88 minutes to live. This is the film's hook, and it's a good one, albeit not an original one, having been best exploited in Rudolph Maté's classic film noir D.O.A. (1950), in which Edmond O'Brien has been poisoned and has only a few days to solve his own murder. Gramm is in a similar position, except he has a chance to prevent his death, albeit with much less time.
But, where to start? Luckily, he teaches at the fictional University of Northwest Washington, where he has an entire class full of bright, eager, potential suspects played by Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, and Benjamin McKenzie. He has a doting, dedicated personal assistant (Amy Brenneman) who could be in on it. And then there's a mysterious man in black leather (Stephen Moyer) who always seems to be hanging around all the wrong places, that is, when he's not trying to run Gramm over with his motorcycle. In fact, screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson (TV's Las Vegas) is so eager to throw in potential red herrings that even otherwise throwaway roles like that of a campus security officer (Brendan Fletcher) become possible suspects.
Director Jon Avnet, who is returning to feature film directing after 10 years in television, must have sensed the inherent schlockiness of the material because he does everything in his power to constantly punch it up with misplaced style, giving us sudden zooms, insipid slow motion, and constantly pounding music. He also allows Pacino to do what Pacino does worst, which is act like a bad parody of Pacino, complete with wild, volcanic bedhead that defies his crisp Armani suit and ultra-modernist office and apartment. As a character, Gramm is a cipher, one of those manufactured movie creations who have all the right characteristics for the role and nothing else, which is probably why Pacino seems to be reaching so hard to ground him.
From its opening, 88 Minutes slowly but steadily spins further and further off-course, starting with a ridiculously staged trial sequence that makes the melodramatics of Law & Order look like a tax briefing and concluding with the aforementioned climax that defies logic and relies entirely on the ever-present talking villain, who is so unconvincing that the entire scene threatens to induce giggles rather than tension. A few good setpieces notwithstanding, there is virtually nothing to remember in 88 Minutes except that it is, unfortunately, a bit longer than its title promises.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Tri-Star Pictures