A film review by Craig J. Koban





2008, R, 108 mins.

Dr. Jack Gramm: Al Pacino / Kim: Alicia Witt / Lauren: Leelee Sobieski / Shelly: Amy Brenneman / Agent Parks: William Forsythe / Carol: Deborah Kara Unger

Directed by Jon Avnet / Written by Gary Scott Thompson

While I sat in the theatre watching the new thriller 88 MINUTES I often stared at the screen in stunned silence and had one universal and unequivocal reaction remain with me:  

There is no possible way that anyone that participated in this turkey with a level head thought they were making a genuinely good movie.  

There's just no way.

This thriller is so incalculably awful in so many ways I find it difficult to actually find words to describe its stunning sense of low worth.  If anything, this is the kind of film where you want to launch yourself at the screen, grab the actors, and pinch them on the arms in hopes of awakening them from the nightmare they are in.  While doing that you also want to check for a collective pulse of the players just to see if they are alive and, let me tell you, watching the great Al Pacino lazily sleep walk and slum his way through this preposterous movie elicited such a yearning on my part. 

88 MINUTES just may be the dumbest film that the actor has ever appeared in.  I would also aptly label it as a disaster picture, but not in the conventional sense of the genre: This is the type of ruinous film where careers go to collapse and die.  There is only one decent thing I will say about Pacino’s performance in this train wreck:

His hair is entertaining.  

Sometimes it’s poofy and frizzy, sometimes it's slicked back and gelled, and other times its blow-dried to such extreme levels that you could practical surf off of it.  Beyond that, Pacino is basically a depressed, sullen, and dreary blank slate here that looks tired, uninvolved, and disinterested in the proceedings.  The only real acting high point that he has occurs late in the film when he tries to convince a police detective and friend that his semen found in the vaginal cavity of a murder victim was actually planted there and part of a conspiracy.  

I have seen comedies with fewer laughs than 88 MINUTES. 

Startling and omnipresent ineptitude taints this film like a disease.   So Pacino looks like a bored stiff that just got out of bed, that much is true, but 88 MINUTES is a failure on a screenplay, direction, musical score, and editing level.   There are scenes where the director (Jon Avnet, whom has done decent work like THE WAR and FRIED GREEN TOMATOES) skews the camera, goes for super hyper zooms and dollies, and frequently drums all of this up to a music score that attempts to instruct the audience members as to every exact emotional beat the is occurring on screen.  If that were not bad enough, the editing and continuity is an unadulterated nightmare:  Cadence and flow of scenes are completely unhinged by odd camera set ups, weird cutting, and even stranger cutaways.  If the intention here was to disorient viewers and make them mock the screen with disdainful spite, then mission accomplished

And then there is the story.  Oh my, what a story!  The screenplay is credited to Gary Scott Thompson (FAST AND THE FURIOUS) and it will surely be required reading in screenwriting classes for how to concoct the most inane and implausibly silly premise and strip it of all intrigue and suspense.  As far as thrillers go, 88 MINUTES is utterly dead-on-arrival from a level of tension.  Moreover, relationships in the film seem contrived, motivations of various characters are never really fully explained, not to mention that the intentions and desires of the main villain leaves you scratching your head more than you would want.  The film is also filled with false starts and shamelessly manipulative plot twists upon plot twists, and there is enough red herrings in the story to allow for one to discern the true identity of the protagonist with spectacularly assured certainty.  Even when 88 MINUTES takes a breather, slows down, and tries to explain things, you are left kind of exasperated. 

In the film Pacino plays Dr. Jack Gramm, a very famous and respected forensic psychiatrist that is kind of a combination of head doctor and private eye (there are some unintentionally hilarious bits when he flags down cars in a panic, whips out his ID, and tells to motorists that, "It’s okay...I'm a forensic psychiatrist”, as if that would be sufficient enough reason for the motorist to stop).  When Gramm is not sending perps to the slammer he is a lecturer at a local university where he has a predilection for partying with his college students.  He’s also liberal minded out of the sack.  His assistant is not only his ex-wife (Amy Brenneman), but she is also a lesbian.  

Now...why on earth does such a small and meaningless detail like this character's sexual affiliation need to be revealed?  What does it serve?  She reveals that point it such a cringe-worthy bit of expositional dialogue that if feels like a tedious bit of foreshadowing.  Well, it's shamefully utilized later to tie in weak and disingenuous threads in an already weak plot. 

The film ostensibly concerns a man that Gramm put away for a death sentence, Jon Forster (Neal McDonaugh, never once coming off as plausibly scary and intimidating).  We get glimpses of the trial in flashback form and see Gramm’s testimony in snippets here and there, but this trial exists in the la-la land of pure make-believe, seeing as the jury convicted Jon on circumstantial evidence and based solely on Gramm’s words, which amount to something like, “In my opinion, this man is a serial killer, and he will rape and kill again."  Wow...that sure sounds convincing enough.  In this film's wacky universe the ideal of "beyond a reasonable doubt" does not seem to exist, nor does it occupy any of the jury member's thought processes.  The fact that a genuine lack of a smoking gun in terms of evidence also seems to not bother this jury.  These people are so woefully incompetent and misguided that they would find Hitler innocent.

Cut back to the present and the killer is hours away from being put to death, but during this time another murderer is on the loose and is committing crimes in exactly the same manner as Forster.  The cops in this film are stupid, seeing as they start to think that, gee, maybe Forster is innocent, but they forget that copycat killers are another possibility, as Gramm pleads through much of the film.  One day when Gramm is on his way to a lecture he receives an ominous call on his cell with a raspy, murky, Morpheus-like voice that tells him that he has 88 minutes to live.  The film then goes into real-time mode where Gramm soon begins to realize that he is being framed for the new murders.  Along for the ride is his horny, red-headed teaching assistant, Kim (Alicia Witt), who wants to bed her superior, but also wants to help him get to the bottom of this creepy message of his impending death. 

I don’t understand this idiotic film.  Why, for Pete’s sake, would Forster want to frame Gramm if he was just going to kill him?  I don’t think this film has a clue.   Okay, so Forster is behind everything from the inside, so how are the copycat crimes being committed and by whom?  The film presents a laundry list of would-be culprits and holds them under suspicion and dismisses them faster than you can say “Hoo-ha!”  Is it that sex-starved Kim?  Is it a highly suspicious student that has issues with Gramm’s questionable testimony at the original trial (he is played by THE OC’s Benjamin McKenizie in a clueless performance)?  Hmmm…maybe it’s the fresh-faced and affable teacher’s pet, Lauren (Leelee Sobieski, who gives a performance of teeth grating awfulness, especially in one crucial scene)?  Maybe it’s the smoking hot College Dean, Carol (Deborah Kara Unger, whose character feels like an afterthought)?  Or…is it Gramm himself?  Then again, he wouldn’t exactly call himself repeatedly and frame himself, which would not be altogether shocking considering the shoddiness of this script.  When we do finally find out who really is behind everything, I clued out so damn quickly that I started to become more enticed by the glowing exit sign at the theatre.  In the end, I just…didn’t…care.  And the way the villain and hero stand off at the end has the intrigue and tension of a Dudley Do-Right cartoon.

88 MINUTES is 88 minutes too long; if it's not easily one of 2008's worst films than I don't know what is.  It's preposterous, abysmally executed, horribly crafted, appallingly acted, and has dialogue that made my ears hurt.  This is a thriller that is so dreadful in so many inconceivable ways that I kind of developed a sick appreciation for the depth and scale of its deficiencies.  Yet, the film is never enjoyable in a so bad, it’s good kind of manner:  There is no joy, life, or passion to this whole exhausted enterprise.  88 MINUTES was shot in 2005 and it then sat on studio shelves for years (it actually has been released on DVD overseas before its theatrical release here).  Postponing a film’s release is typically a nail in the coffin for its worth, and the seemingly unwatchable 88 MINUTES is no exception.  Underneath all of this film’s ridiculousness and idiocy is Al Pacino - one of the greatest of all actors at playing personas of iron-clad conviction and scenery chewing vigor - who is so detached here that you wonder if paramedics were on set to check his vital signs in-between takes.   

At least his hair was fun to look at. 

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