Review: 88 Minutes

Al Pacino is Dr. Jack Gramm, and being called Doctor apparently means he can be a forensic psychiatrist, college professor, and FBI profiler all at the same time. Gramm’s testimony was largely responsible for the conviction of possible killer Neal McDonough, who claims he’s innocent, but is about to be executed. And then the killings start up, strangely familiar killings. The work of a copycat? Or did Jack really get it wrong? Either way, McDonough gets a stay of execution, and Gramm gets 88 minutes to live, thanks to some creepy threatening phone calls, and he must race to find out what the hell is going on before the voice on the phone makes good on those threats. Furthermore, given that the first victim was a student of Jack’s, he’s wanted for questioning by the coppers, too! Alicia Witt is Gramm’s smitten teacher’s assistant (with a jealous and violent ex), Amy Brenneman his lesbian (woo-hoo!) assistant/receptionist, and William Forsythe his cop buddy, who tries to give him as much time to clear things up as he can. His students include Ben McKenzie (who once visited McDonough for research purposes. Could he be McDonough’s protégé?) and Leelee Sobieski (making one of her strangely infrequent film appearances these days), whilst Deborah Kara Unger is the Dean, who is also Pacino’s slightly bitter former flame.

Boy has Al Pacino’s career taken a nosedive in the last 15 years or so, and although the film is not as bad as reputed to be, this ludicrous 2007 Jon Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes”, “Righteous Kill”) killer-thriller apparently filmed in 2005, isn’t anywhere near up to snuff. The film starts with two hot Asian chicks in a stalk-and-slash scene that belongs in a different movie, but at least establishes the talent of cinematographer Denis Lenoir (“Righteous Kill”), who does particularly crisp work here. Sadly, the film’s real-time conceit (ala “24”) doesn’t even begin to work. The film’s 88 minutes, for instance, start about fifteen minutes into the film! How exactly did the killer know that Pacino would get to his car with exactly 72 minutes left so he could write that message on the car for him?. Also problematic is that Avnet’s not a strong enough director to keep it all exciting and fast-paced. Still, it’s really the script that kills the film, although the central premise certainly has interesting elements. It’s just way too contrived and illogical. Why are so many of Pacino’s students dawdling home after class? Answer: To provide obvious red herrings in one of the worst scenes in any thriller I’ve seen. Also, can mobile phones really be used to tap into other people’s phone conversations mid-sentence like it happens here? Really? And I don’t mean in a call-waiting way. It’s pretty similar in fact, to another Avnet-Pacino release “Righteous Kill”, only that the red herrings in this film are far less obviously red herrings (with one or two exceptions) than the ones in “Righteous Kill”. In other words, most of the suspects in this film are credibly presented here as suspects, making it harder to guess the culprit/s from the red herrings. Mind you, in both films, I failed to guess the killer/s, in both cases it was my number two suspects/s who were guilty (In “Righteous Kill”, they were the only two credible suspects anyway). So I guess in a weird way, that’s a positive thing, I was kept guessing throughout this film, even though in the end I was wrong but not surprised. But I have to say that the final reveal leaves open some gaping plot holes, Pacino really should’ve seen it coming a mile away.

What one is left with is a good-looking film, with a serviceable (and thankfully quiet) performance from Pacino, a surprisingly sexy and incandescent Witt (not served well by the screenplay, but she’s still the best thing in the film), and a story that at least keeps you watching. Unfortunately that story is contrived and filled with gaping holes in logic (Why didn’t Pacino just punch a cop and spend the next 88 minutes in jail, but not dead? Seemed the logical thing to me), the direction is barely competent, and Leelee Sobieski (whatever happened to her?) gives an astonishingly bad performance. A waste of Forsythe and Unger’s talents too. Still, I’m really surprised that this film earned the pasting it did from critics and audiences, but...I’m hardly going to recommend it, either. The screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson (“Split Second”, the awful petrol-sniffer flick “The Fast and the Furious”) could’ve done with a lot more work, especially in the areas of logic and dialogue.

Rating: C-


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