Saturday, July 4, 2009

88 Minutes

I remember murmurs of a certain film called 88Minutes when I checked out the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro pairing Righteous Kill. That film was boring and pointless, with nothing riding on it but the promise of the ultimate star package. As a result, it wasted its talents and only served to remind us how De Niro and Pacino had long ago lapsed into scenery-chewing and self-parody. Jon Avnet directed Righteous Kill, which looks like a classic compared to this.

If his latest opus was founded solely on the bankability of "These guys haven't been in a film since Heat!" 88 Minutes has absolutely nothing to justify its length. Its title becomes a cruel tease, as this gormless thriller stretches well beyond its 88 minutes of real time narrative into a 107-minute drag. Even its titular length is 88 minutes too long.

Pacino is at his all-time low as forensic psychiatrist Jack Gramm, who may or may not have illegally coerced the victim of a rapist and murderer into providing concrete, damning testimony over just the facts. There's no real doubt that the man is guilty, but taking this route allows screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson to half-heartedly attempt to apply the usual crime themes of justifiable deceit and law-bending in the name of justice. In one moment so transparent it's downright funny, Gramm recounts that a similar torturer and murderer killed his kid sister many years ago in retaliation for chasing him and it took, that's right, 88 minutes to kill her.

Such dialogue highlights Thompson's clueless script, which is in turns clichéd and sexist. Gramm is also a professor, and his class is stuffed to the gills with nubile young gals who look like they're risking their scholarships just to gaze longingly at this scruffy mess. At least when the ladies fawned over Indiana Jones Spielberg was playing up the B-movie feel. Also, Indy knew how to use a razor. Gramm certainly gets around with the young ladies but, naturally, he doesn't sleep with the students.

On the way to class one day -- the day of the rapist Forster's scheduled execution -- he receives a phone call from a digitally masked voice informing him he has 88 minutes to live. Periodically, the voice calls back to remind him how much time. Why, though? The person on the other end was even helpful enough to set the deadline of 11:45 a.m.

Meanwhile, similar crimes as the one Forster was accused of begin appearing throughout the city, convincing residents of his innocence and provoking a sudden clamor to get him off death row. Because never in the history of crime and the media's coverage of crime has anyone ever committed crimes like another person. Some of the new victims are Gramm's hot young students, so now the police -- not the idiot public, the actual police and Feds -- begin to suspect him. Keep in mind that all of this is happening while a news special broadcasts Forster's final moments live to fight for a stay of execution.

It's up to Gramm to clear his name and stay alive, so he turns to his special team of interchangeable women all too young to pull off their jobs. There's his teaching assistant (Alicia Witt), a dean (Deborah Unger) who looks about five to 10 years too young to be as close to the top of college administration as she is. Only his secretary looks like an actual adult, but sadly Gramm can't pursue a relationship with her because she's gay (how else, in this ridiculous cinematic world, can you explain a woman her age not being settled down?). One of his students (Leelee Sobieski) seems to know far too much about her subject.

Part of me wants to spoil how this all ends, and the other part just can't muster up the effort. You won't care how it ends, anyway, other than being glad your time with this film is done. Avnet has no clue how to set up a thriller, or how to maintain any level of tension other than the audience's mounting hatred of the film. His direction is every bit as laughable as the acting and the script, with his flashback framing in particular actually making me laugh at loud in disbelief.

What possessed Pacino to agree to this? Sure, he's a hollow shell of his former self, and he hasn't put in a memorable performance since Mann's The Insider, but he still has killer name recognition. He would have gotten a nice paycheck either way, so why didn't he at least find something that would allow him to coast as usual rather than actively assail his legacy here? I held off making a Worst of 2008 list because of this film, and I was perversely rewarded for it: 88 Minutes is one of the most cringe-worthy star vehicles you'll ever see, an atrocious mixture of clichéd misogyny, scenery chewing and inept cinematography. Hoo-ah.

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