by Mel Valentin
"88 Minutes," a mystery/thriller directed by Jon Avnet ("Red Corner," "Up Close & Personal," "The War," "Fried Green Tomatoes"), is the latest film to feature the once-great, now-coasting-into-middle-age-mediocrity Al Pacino collecting a paycheck he's barely earned. With a clever high-concept premise to make Hollywood executives salivate, "88 Minutes" had the potential to be an entertaining diversion along the lines of "D.O.A." (i.e., a character investigating a murder, his own), but instead, thanks to Gary Scott Thompsonís tensionless, plausibility-free screenplay, Avnetís slipshod direction, and lazy, uninspired performances, "88 Minutes" turns out to be 88 (actually 108, but whoís counting?) minutes of tedium-inducing hokum.The first sign that 88 Minutes is going to disappoint comes with the first gratuitous scene as a serial killer breaks into an apartment, ties up and binds two women, and kills one before a mewling cat forces him to discontinue the torture session. The testimony of the survivor, Janie Cates (Tammy Hui), proves pivotal in the accused killerís conviction, as does forensic psychologist Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino, somewhat subdued, thankfully). The convicted killer, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough, evil incarnate, well no, slight exaggeration), vows revenge (okay, not really, but his glowering look says as much) before 88 Minutes jumps ahead nine years as Gramm wakes up from a one-night stand with a significantly younger woman (Leah Cairns, red herring No. 1). Oh right, and Forster is due to be executed in twelve hours by lethal injection.
"Ladies and gents, Al Pacino, letting us (and himself) down once again."
Before Gramm can get out of bed, Gramm gets a call from an old friend and associate, Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe, paycheck collecting). Apparently, someone using Forsterís MO has murdered one of Grammís students, Dale Morris (Kristina Copeland, seen only in brief flashbacks). Gramm gets dressed (skipping the shower part, apparently) and meets up with Parks and a lawyer, Jeremy Guber (Christopher Redman, blank, expressionless), from the Attorney Generalís office. Gramm dismisses any questions about an illicit relationship with Morris, claiming that he only mentored and counseled her through some difficult times.
Gramm, though, has a forensics class to teach. On the way in, he gets a call from a prepaid phone call claiming he has only 88 minutes to live. Dismissing the call as a prank, Gramm shows up to class as his graduate assistant, Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt, eye candy, mostly), teaches. His students include Lauren Douglas (Leelee Sobieski, wasted in another dead-end role) and Mike Stempt (The OCís Benjamin McKenzie, red herring No. 363). Another cell call seriously rattles Gramm. Luckily, his trusted assistant, Shelly Barnes (Amy Brenneman in a thankless role), is on hand to help with fielding calls and on-the-go research. To round out the cast of suspects, the university dean, Carol Johnson (Deborah Kara Unger, still acting, apparently), appears at the classroom door seconds after fire alarms go off.
Gary Scott Thompsonís screenplay stumbles from the get-go, first by indulging in the gratuitous torture scene (Avnet helpfully adds Friday the 13th-style music), then by treating an already hard-to-believe scenario with complete and utter disregard for narrative logic or internal coherence. Avnet and Thompson clumsily pile on the red herrings, making each character Gramm encounters act suspiciously if for no other reason than the plot demands. When that doesnít work, Avnet and Thompson throw in a mysterious biker character, Guy LaForge (Stephen Moyer, speechless, literally) who may or may not be involved with the murder or one of the other characters. By the time we get to the Gramm-confronts-the-killer scene, 88 Minutes has churned through any good will moviegoers might have toward Al Pacino or anyone else involved in the production.Unfortunately, itís not likely Al Pacino is going to point to his performance in "88 Minutes" among his most memorable, let alone his best (by any standard). To think that once, seemingly long, long ago, Al Pacino gave one Oscar-worthy performance after another, eventually winning an Academy Award for [i]Scent of a Woman[/i] (ironically, for one of the worst performances of his career, and sadly, a harbinger for overemphatic performances to come). Here, Pacino is slightly more subdued than heís been in the last five or six years, but given the shallow, derivative character (i.e., a commitment-phobic character with a traumatic past) heís playing here, itís not surprising that Pacino shows little interest in adding layers or depths to character. Heck, he canít even keep his hair in the same place from scene to scene (gray appears and disappears), the clearest, if most superficial, indication that everyone involved in "88 Minutes" cared little about the end result (and it shows).
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originally posted: 04/18/08 06:00:00