Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.
Release Date: April 18th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jon Avnet Actors: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Neal McDonough, Leah Cairns
Minutes” is a film so stuffed with shortcomings that they can’t all be addressed in a single review. Young, amateurish talent, which gives the film a correspondingly juvenile feeling, surrounds veteran actor Al Pacino, who is generally impressive in just about everything he’s involved with. But here, he can’t counteract the others’ performances. Trying futilely to be suspenseful and endeavoring much too hard to keep the audience in a guessing game, “88 Minutes” becomes downright laughable at times; it’s simply not clever enough to sustain 88 minutes of storytelling, let alone the actual running time of 108 minutes.
In Seattle, Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) is the FBI forensic psychiatrist who was chiefly responsible for the conviction of “The Seattle Slayer” serial killer, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough). As Forster approaches his execution, Gramm receives a mysterious phone call, which warns him that he has only 88 minutes left to live. Jack becomes understandably paranoid, suspecting every acquaintance as he retraces the various events leading up to the deaths of several of the Slayer’s victims – revealing a copycat killer whose movements are seemingly governed by the imprisoned Forster. Wrapped up in a dastardly game of cat-and-mouse, with time running out, Jack must attempt to catch his own potential murderer.
While the plot initially seems diverting, the story quickly collapses upon itself. It struggles to maintain adequate suspense – even though most of the characters evoke no sympathy – while Pacino is clearly invincible (at least until the final seconds of his 88-minute investigation). To further decrease the intensity is an overabundance of manufactured paranoia slathered onto every scene; the buildup is mere fanfaronade, with a wealth of uninspired background characters as possible suspects – even down to a campus security cop and a desk attendant, each hamming up their roles to the point of comical absurdity.
Too many bit parts means there’s not enough screentime for those that count, resulting in plenty of planned confusion. But even if viewers are unable to guess the culprit long before the last seconds extinguish, the revelation is humdrum at best. And though Pacino is granted moderate character development, nearly 90% of the film takes place on cell phones, further disassociating the audience from significant personas. Gramm is also patronized by nearly everyone in the film, surrounded by students and associates who are clearly not as loyal or sincere as they struggle to appear, which augments a level of suspiciousness that goes beyond paranoia, ultimately making the scenario difficult to take seriously.
Had Gramm succumbed to a bomb in his car, a hit-and-run motorcyclist, or a crazed shooter – all ludicrously contrived gimmicks – he wouldn’t have survived long enough to make good with the title, which again prevents any of those jittery moments from possessing real tension. Meanwhile, lots of zooms, flashbacks, spliced footage of dead bodies, and annoying edits add to the unappealing properties of the picture – not to mention the numerous loopholes or the dreadfully unimportant details that serve as red herrings. Audiences aren’t meant to solve the mystery alongside Gramm’s clue-collecting maneuvers, particularly due to characters who confess their crimes or are purposefully misleading, ultimately preventing “88 Minutes” from being interactive. Instead, it’s a guessing game that audiences will want to give up playing right from the start.
– Mike Massie