Friday, April 18, 2008

"88 Minutes" -- * 1/2

Jon Avnet's "88 Minutes" is the sort of truly stupid, dull "thriller" that so clearly required no effort from anyone involved that it hardly seems worthy of your thoughts, let alone your time and money. Unrelentingly bland, with the feel of a straight-to-DVD release (which it already was in many countries), it's only notable in the respect that it provokes a feeling rarely felt at the movies: embarrassment. Embarrassed for its director, Avnet, its star, Al Pacino, and its flavor-of-last-month supporting cast. Wildly over-complicated and filled with barely-explained threatening characters and exposition-filled dialogue, writer Gary Scott Thompson's screenplay borders on incomprehensible, and it's tempting to call the filmmaking incompetent.

Pacino plays Seattle professor and FBI forensic psychologist Jack Gramm, who spends his time dancing to "Get It Poppin'" with girls young enough to be his granddaughter, when he isn't busy giving testimony to sentence accused killers to death. One of those fellows, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), is about to be executed as has steadfastly accused Gramm of false testimony ever since conviction. Now, with numerous similar murders being committed, Forster is given a stay of execution. In the midst of flipping out, Gramm gets a phone call informing him he was 88 minutes to live. Why 88 minutes? It has to do with some bullshit involving his little sister's murder years ago. I think.

Avnet is a competent director by most accounts, but his bag of lazy director's tricks-- he utilizes haphazard zooms and choppy slo-mo-- wouldn't earn a passing grade in a low-level film course. Pacino, unquestionably one of the all-time greats, has done his share of slumming before ("The Recruit and "Two for the Money" come to mind as recent examples), but his turn here is lazy even for him. He looks as if he drank heavily the night before, rolled out of bed, dyed his hair and ran to the set. The casting of Leelee Sobieski and "The OC's" Benjamin McKenzie in supporting roles only serves to show how long this thing's been sitting on the shelf; shot in, I believe, 2005, these two were hot items when this ball of suck was slapped together. As for William Forsythe, I just feel bad that the guy has to play yet another staid detective who says things like "It's the Seattle Slayer again," after trying to branch out in "Deuce Bigalow" and "The Devil's Rejects."

Worst of all, the movie doesn't even stick to the logic of its own stupid concept. The whole 88 minutes gimmick is pretty much incidental, with it barely being relevant by the third act and when it is, it doesn't even follow the correct time parameters (5 minutes after receiving the initial call, the stalker/killer tells Jack he has 79 minutes left). All this lame is capped with a silly goose ending that will likely provoke hearty laughter in theaters nationwide. Only given a theatrical release seemingly as a gesture of good faith towards the director and actor, "88 Minutes" isn't unwatchable or astronomically painful to watch, but it's hard to dispute that it sucks.


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