(director: Jon Avnet; screenwriter: Gary Scott Thompson; cinematographer: Denis Lenoir; editor: Peter Berger; music: Edward Shearmur; cast: Al Pacino (Jack Gramm), Alicia Witt (Kim Cummings), Leelee Sobieski (Lauren Douglas), Amy Brenneman (Shelly Barnes), Deborah Kara Unger (Carol Lynn Johnson), Benjamin McKenzie (Mike Stempt), William Forsythe (Frank Parks), Neal McDonough (Jon Forster), Christopher Redman (Jeremy Guber), Vicky Huang (Joanie Cates), Tammy Hui (Janie Cates), Leah Cairns (Sara Pollard), Stephen Moyer (Guy LaForge), Brendan Fletcher (Johnny D’Franco), Kristina Copeland (Dale Morris); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mr. Avnet/Mr. Thompson/Randall Emmett; TriStar Pictures; 2007)
“It’s a B-movie with an A-movie cast, where the cast doesn’t even perform up to B-movie standards.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This unpleasant misogynist exploitation thriller mercifully sat on the shelf for a year before being released. Director Jon Avnet (“Red Corner”/”The War”/”Fried Green Tomatoes”) and writer Gary Scott Thompson keep it preposterous, twisty, salted away with enough red herrings to feed a banquet of Vikings, filled with so many gaping plot holes the film feels like one big plot hole and a cheesy story that’s too moldy to digest without puking. It’s a B-movie with an A-movie cast, where the cast doesn’t even perform up to B-movie standards. Though it’s an idiotic sleaze fest it takes itself so seriously, yet is not bad enough to be entertaining, get anything but unintentional laughs or even pass the giggle test for believability. When you think of clock ticking noir suspense tales, you hold D.O.A. up as the standard bearer. 88 Minutes falls somewhere in the bottom rung of that genre. It’s mostly disappointing because the once talented Al Pacino is the star and it was downright squirmy sitting through his ill-conceived vanity performance, which indicates he’s losing his mojo. Pacino’s miscast as an action hero and womanizer, playing a part that he’s too old to handle with grace but still vain enough to think he can.
Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) is a Seattle-based bachelor college professor who moonlights as a high-profile forensic psychiatrist for the FBI. Nine years ago his leading testimony against serial killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) helped put him on Death Row for the torture killing of Joanie Cates (Vicky Huang)–she was hanging from a rope like a steer for slaughter. Known as the “Seattle Slayer,” the articulate Forster always maintained his innocence and ridiculed forensic psychiatry as voodoo science. With Forster’s execution approaching, a torture slaying of Gramm’s university student, Dale Morris, is discovered with the same signature style used by Forster. Soon Gramm receives a cellphone call telling him he’s going to die in 88 minutes.
The remainder of the film, which takes longer than 88 minutes, has Gramm go after his potential killer on his own and he acts more like James Bond than a professor: he excitedly shouts orders over the phone to his lesbian assistant Shelly (Amy Brenneman); he suspects his ace students Lauren (Leelee Sobieski) and Mike (Benjamin McKenzie), and his teaching assistant, Kim (Alicia Witt), whose troubled hateful ex-husband (Stephen Moyer) served time at Walla Walla Prison — where Forster is located and knows Kim has a girlie crush on the prof; Gramm also suspects the creepy campus security guard (Brendan Fletcher), a serial killer fan, and even Dean Johnson (Deborah Kara Unger) because she openly resents him.
The copycat killer strikes again someone Gramm knew, his date from last night, Sara Pollard (Leah Cairns), in the trademark Forster style, and leaves Gramm’s DNA at the crime scene. Even Gramm’s old-time loyal friend from the FBI, Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe), is now not sure if Gramm hasn’t cracked and gone over the edge to become a killer.
Even in the poorly executed climactic scene (a scene Ed Wood Jr. could have done wonders with and with less talent) when the killer becomes known and explains his/her motives, none of it makes sense. It adds up to 105 minutes of clumsy filmmaking and an unnecessarily overwritten story, with too many plot points that don’t fly and too many characters who are innocent but act serial killer-like creepy (including the film’s star).
REVIEWED ON 4/20/2008 GRADE: C-