Held back two years for a reason
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: John Avnet
Notable Cast: Al Pacino, Neal McDonough, Deborah Kara Unger, Alicia Witt
Anytime you do a thriller where you posit that the perpetrator is amongst your cast, Roger Ebert’s famous law on the conservation of characters comes into play. Any main character whose purpose is not readily apparent must be more important than he or she seems, Ebert wrote many moons ago, and 88 Minutes is aware of this rule. It’s so aware of it that the film goes out of its way to make every character seem important so that it becomes a mess with a twist ending that’s apparent in the first 10 minutes of the film.
Dr. John Gramm (Al Pacino) is a famous forensic psychologist and college professor whose testimony convicted Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) of a vicious murder/rape. When a copycat crime takes the life of one of his students, Gramm’s life is sent into a tailspin further amplified by a death threat claiming he has only 88 minutes to live. Gramm takes the next hour and a half, shown in real time, to track down the real killer from amongst a very diverse set including his students and friends. And while the concept is smart enough on its right, the film has one fatal flow that torpedoes its entire run time: its too busy concentrating on making everyone into a guilty party. There’s too much time devoted to trying to make everyone into the killer, which is interesting for a film that runs in real time for the last three quarters of running time.
And this is a great concept. Getting 90 minutes of actual screen time or so to be able to flesh out who the killer is makes the film intriguing in its first act. There’s a sense of desperation early on and John Avnet absolutely nails it. Gramm is bewildered and out of his element, paranoid about everything and everyone; at first there’s some real potential for an interesting take on the genre. Then the film decides to pull out every cliché imaginable and take out the spark of creativity it has early on with a poor excuse for a script.
The film’s script is relatively weak in this regard. If one guesses the least likely candidate in the film’s opening stanza one’s rewarded, as the film tries every thriller device ever created and throws it out there as an excuse for a poorly plotted and devised plot. Avnet seems to have pulled out the “Idiot’s Guide to Thrillers” and is running it in ways never intended. There isn’t a shred of originality or intrigue to the proceedings. It makes for a painful two hour run time, and it only gets worse by seeing Al Pacino mail in a performance in only the way he can.
Pacino never has a bad performance, per se, but this is pushing that criterion a bit. Pacino’s mere presence elevates the horrid material to passable, but that really isn’t saying much because Pacino isn’t trying that hard. It seems that he knows the material is bad and does just enough to keep the blame from being focused on him. Gramm is a character he can do in his sleep and seems to be a combination of the last 10 years of police officers he’s portrayed. All that’s missing is him screaming at the top of his lungs every other scene, which is usually the sign that he cares about the project.
88 Minutes has been put into theatres nearly three years after it finished production, and by all rights a theatrical release doesn’t really seem to do it justice. This is direct to video material, at best, and its only purpose for being in theatres is because of the fact that one of history’s greatest actors took the lead in it. It’s the strongest contender so far this year for Worst Film of the Year.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):