88 Minutes

88 Minutes

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Watching “88 Minutes,” I had this sinking feeling that Al Pacino’s career was never going to pick up again. Like Joan Crawford or Bela Lugosi, he was going to spend the second half of his working life sauntering vaguely downwards into the pit of cheap-ass thrillers, fatuous monster films, and ineptly-assembled schlock, never again required to (or perhaps not even capable of) giving the grandiose character performances that made him a legend in the first place.


            Just watch his eyes in “88 Minutes,” and see if you can disagree with me. His hollow, baffled expression, his pie-eyed wooziness and his oddly Eraserhead-ish hairdo, all make him seem less like an actor making boldly challenging choices, and more like someone who is still drunk from the heavy drinking he did the night before. There were times when I began to suspect that Pacino was actually drunk every day on the set of “88 Minutes.”


            The story: Dr. Jack Gramm (Pacino) is a forensic psychologist who often testifies for the district attorney, making sure criminals can be called “legally insane.” He also teaches at the local college. That day the film takes place, a dangerous serial killer named John Forster (Neal McDonough) is scheduled to be executed, having been imprisoned based on Dr. Gramm’s expert testimony. But! But! Someone has been killing girls in the exact same way Forster was supposed to have! Is it a copycat? Was Forster really innocent all this time? And then! And then! Dr. Gramm gets a threatening phone call informing him that he has only… 88 minutes to live!


            Dr. Gramm is shot at, chased, nearly exploded, and attacked by several thugs during the ensuing 88 minutes, and he must spend the time frantically figuring out who is behind all this. Is it Forster from prison? Is it his comely teaching assistant Kim (Alicia Witt)? Is it Kim’s faceless psychopathic ex-husband? Is it his star pupil Lauren (Leelee Sobieski)? Is it his capable lesbian personal assistant (Amy Brenneman)? Is it his buddy in the police department (William Forsythe)? Is it that one security guard that we only saw in one scene? Is it the pissed-off college dean (Deborah Kara Unger)? By the end of the 88 minutes, will the audience even care?


            If Gramm is going to die in 88 minutes, why go to all the trouble of following him about trying to kill him in the mean time? If Forster is to be executed that day, how is it he can take telephone calls on a CNN interview? Why does Gramm keep incriminating things in a great big vault in his office? If Gramm is so brilliant a psychologist, how is it that he’s so socially awkward (he orders cookies during a police inquest)? If he’s so smart a guy, why is he often seen charging about in public with a gun after he’s been accused of omitting crimes? Why are Sobieski’s, Forsythe’s and Unger’s parts so small? What does the Witt character see in Gramm? If the film is called “88 Minutes,” why does it run nearly two hours? Why did I have such horrible desires to harm Jon Avnet, the film’s director, even though I’m a largely pacifist? How did Avnet go from “Fried Green Tomatoes” to thriller schlock (he also did the Richard Gere 1997 thrill-fest “Red Corner”)? Why did Pacino even bother with a script so bad, seeing as he can pretty much choose any project he wants?


            There was something I liked about the film, for the first 100 minutes or so: Amy Brenneman’s character is gay, period. Her sexuality has no bearing on anything at all other than it is mentioned in casual conversation. It’s refreshing to see a character in a major Hollywood thriller that is merely, incidentally, gay. Not a funny gay sidekick, not a suicidal gay hedonist, not a vampy bisexual seductress. Just a run-of-the-mill homosexual. But then, of course, in the film’s final few minutes, her sexuality does indeed become a plot point, and obliterates any openmindedness the screenplay may have had before.


            I’ve seen worse and more implausible thrillers in my day. But not many.

Published in: on May 20, 2008 at 7:17 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Byelorussian says : I absolutely agree with this !

  2. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Threader

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