You wait years for a new Al Pacino movie – and then two turkeys come out back to back. The misleadingly titled 88 Minutes (it lasts 108 minutes and feels much longer) was filmed three years ago, before last week’s not-quite-so-terrible-in-retrospect Righteous Kill.
The fact that Mr Pacino would agree to work with director Jon Avnet again after this is trashy, tacky, ridiculous thriller is quite mindboggling, but then Al hasn’t had a great millennium lately (S1m0ne, People I Know, The Recruit, Gigli, Two for the Money… Two for the money? Hmmmm…)
Here he’s playing Dr Jack Gramm, a “forensic psychologist” (does this job exist?) who teaches at North Western University and whose imaginative testimony is credited with convicting serial killer the Seattle Slayer (Neal McDonough). Certainly that’s how the Slayer sees it. Today he’s facing execution, only there’s a snag: one of Gramm’s students is found trussed up, tortured and killed in precisely the same manner as the Slayer’s alleged victims. As if that’s not enough, Gramm gets a phone call from the victim’s mobile. An unidentifiable voice tells him he has just 88 minutes to live…
That’s a passable premise for an exciting thriller – or two, actually. But there are fundamental problems in this story and they become obvious early on.
(1) If the Slayer, or presumably some associate of the Slayer is trying to frame Gramm for the murders, then why kill him?
(2) If you’re going to countdown the 88 minutes to the murder, then why do you also try to shoot him and blow him up before the time is up?
It’s not a good sign that these issues come to mind so quickly, despite more pressing distractions like: why is Al Pacino orange in this movie? And: what’s with the hair? (A wild bouffant that’s almost as tall as he is.) Then there’s: did the killer take traffic conditions into consideration when he or she worked out the schedule (and why on earth sabotage his car)?
What we’re supposed to be wondering about is who wants to stick it to Jack so bad, and why? Could it be his class aid, pretty pistol-packing Alicia Witt? Her ex-boyfriend, perhaps, who skulks around in motorcycle leathers for no very good reason (pretty Benjamin McKenzie)? Maybe it’s another student, pretty smart Leelee Sobieski? Or his secretary/telephonist, pretty old Amy Brenneman? Surely it can’t be the Dean, pretty pale Deborah Kara Unger?
Frankly, who cares? The movie has no interest in making these ciphers human beings, and the reveal, when it comes, is neither believable nor surprising.
It might be tempting to give this movie a pass as an example of the so-bad-it’s-good school, except that Jon Avnet sees fit to leer at every woman on screen so lasciviously you can practically hear him licking his lips – and this sits badly with his evident appreciation for the twisted female corpses the killer leaves dangling by one leg from the ceiling. It’s Pacino’s all-time low.Tom Charity
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