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    88 Minutes (2007) – Movie Review

    By Robert L. Jones | April 20, 2008

    Don't let the poofy hair fool you: 88 Minutes is a fun thrill ride

    Don't let the poofy hair fool you: 88 Minutes is a fun thrill ride

    There’s a Madness to his Method

    Rating: 3/5 ★★★☆☆ 

    88 Minutes. Starring Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Benjamin McKenzie, Neal McDonough, Leah Cairns, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Redman, Brendan Fletcher, Michael Eklund, Kristina Copeland, and Tammy Hui. Music by Ed Shearmur. Cinematography by Denis Lenoir, A.S.C., A.F.C.  Production design by Tracey Gallacher. Costume design by Mary E. McLeod. Edited by Peter E. Berger, A.C.E.  Screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson. Directed by Jon Avnet. (Sony TriStar Pictures/Millennium Films, 2007, Color, 108 minutes. MPAA Rating: R.)

     In 88 Minutes, Al Pacino confronts a murderer, and he’s only got one question as he tries to find the key to unlock the killer’s twisted thinking. “You know what I don’t understand? How in God’s name does anybody give up their free will? How do you do that? You were intelligent. You were an individual.

    In a wonderfully over-the-top movie, Pacino delivers a bravura performance as the impossibly GQ forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm that plays like a highlight reel of his portrayals of some of the screen’s most manic and memorable characters. Even though he’s closing in on his 70th birthday, Pacino still has a volatile, explosive screen presence that eludes so many actors from younger generations.

    The title refers to a setup not uncommon for this thriller genre: A decade after Gramm’s expert testimony put away sadistic serial rapist and murderer Jon Forster (played with that “he acts so cool and rational that he must be mad” creepiness by Neal McDonough), the death row inmate is scheduled to be executed. Ah, but not so fast: The mad genius con has a few jokers up his sleeve that he’s been saving for just the right moment to try and bluff his way out of his date with destiny.

    It seems that the prosecution built its case solely around circumstantial evidence, and that it was Dr. Gramm’s testimony, that Forster precisely fit the profile of a serial murderer, that closed the deal with the jury. As Forster’s being led away after sentencing, he intones a message, the meaning of which will be revealed later in the movie’s plot. “Tick tock, Doc,” he menacingly whispers in Gramm’s ear.

    Ten years later, the cat-and-mouse game begins as one of Jack’s female college students winds up sliced open with an X-acto knife, bound and hung with ropes, as if a sailor or Eagle Scout applied his expertise with knot tying. The savage butchering fits Forster’s M.O. to a T, and suddenly doubt is shed on Forster’s conviction as it appears the Seattle Slayer is once more at large.

    In a cable news interview, Forster questions Gramm’s impartiality, suggesting that the good doctor was a “hired gun” with an axe to grind. Watching the videotaped slaying of the recent victim, who pleads with Gramm to let go the innocent man, Forster, right before her demise, even Gramm’s FBI colleagues question his professional integrity. Indignant, Gramm fires back to his FBI partner, “Yeah, I have a personal vendetta against him. I also have a personal vendetta against Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and other serial murderers.”

    As he leaves to deliver at lecture, a call comes in on Gramm’s cell phone. A hollow voice from out of the past chillingly taunts him, “Tick tock, Doc.” The voice tells him he has only 88 minutes to live. And, as the tagline goes, “Jack Gramm only has 88 minutes to solve a murder—his own!”

    Clouds of suspicion gather all around Jack’s colleagues and students. He knows that Forster is behind the elaborate scheme to turn his world upside down. But in short order, as precious minutes tick away, he must figure out who’s out to get him. Is it his trusty gal Friday, Shelly (Amy Brenneman), a lipstick lesbian who runs hot and cold? Is it his department chairwoman Carol (Deborah Kara Unger), who’s setting the womanizing Gramm up as revenge for dumping her in favor of hotter, younger, graduate student coeds? Is it graduate students Mike (Benjamin McKenzie) or Lauren (Leelee Sobieski), who themselves have questions about their prof’s veracity? Or, is it his graduate assistant Kim (Alicia Witt), who sheds her leather jacket to reveal a little-left-to-the-imagination camisole once she’s alone with Gramm?

    Every few minutes, just to let him know he’s on a short leash, the disembodied voice calls to update him on how much time he has left to live. As he’s shot at by a mysterious biker, as his apartment fills up with billowing smoke, as his Porsche convertible blows up mere yards away from him, and as freshly-murdered female corpses pop up all over town—with Gramm’s fingerprints and DNA left all over the crime scenes—the cops, the killer, and his world, start closing in on Gramm.

    Critics have universally skewered 88 Minutes. Many have dubbed this suspense thriller with that most-reviled of put-downs, “B-Movie.” But that’s what makes this picture: Pacino is obviously having a good time playing Carlito Montana Serpico all over again, as he beds comely vixens more than four decades younger than he. Now that he’s got his much-delayed Oscar, Al Pacino can afford to drop all the Stanislavsky subtlety and give what’s got to be the hammiest movie performance by a Hollywood institution since Gregory Peck’s frenzied turn as evil Nazi geneticist Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil.

    Sure, it’s got a preposterous script with too many loose threads left untied, a barrel of herring redder than the Canada Post letterboxes that seem out of place in the movie’s Seattle locale (Vancouver stood in as stunt double, as it usually does, for the northwestern American city), and more implausibility than Eli Manning’s miracle pass to David Tyree in the last minutes of Super Bowl XLII, but so did The Big Sleep. Aside from overusing the zoom lens early on in the action, 88 Minutes is an enjoyable, on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that’s got the one ingredient missing from so many of today’s “modern noirs,” like Memento, The Usual Suspects, and L.A. Confidential. That ingredient is fun.

    While I doubt 88 Minutes will ever be included in the same league as the three aforementioned indy flicks, that’s its charm. It’s such a novelty to watch a movie that, for once, puts its poor sap protagonist through the wringer without putting the theater audience through a veritable film school lecture. Writer Thompson and director Avnet don’t ruin the movie for us by taking every scene and shot so damned seriously.

    Like the movie which defined the man-on-the-run solving his own murder genre, D.O.A. (the 1950 original version with Edmond O’Brien, not the remake with Dennis Quaid), 88 Minutes is full of over-the-top dialogue. At the end of his rope, Pacino bellows at fellow FBI agent (William Forsythe), “Can’t you see this is a frame? What did I do, Frank? Did I blow up my car? Did I fire bullets at myself?” Even better, it’s got a bevy of dizzy dames who appear to have been cast and scantily costumed by the suits at FHM or Maxim magazines.

    Writer Stephen Green describes today’s B-movies as “the last outpost of individualism in Hollywood.” He writes, “The advantage of B-movies is that they’re able to slip under the radar of Hollywood’s PC Values Police.” I think what has truly enraged today’s critics is that 88 Minutes dared to pass itself off as a genuine A-movie.

    Pacino’s hero Dr. Jack Gramm hardly makes for an acceptable hero by the politically correct crowd: Aside from being an unrepentant womanizer (read: “misogynist”), Gramm has the audacity to view murderers as evil, not adult victims of child abuse. He makes no excuses for their heinous behavior, regarding them not as helpless mental cases but just plain scum.

    As Forster harangues viewers on MSNBC about Gramm’s “psychobabbling innocent people into the death chamber,” what is so pleasing about Gramm is that his clear-headed analysis of serial murderers is the exact opposite of “psychobabble.” As Gramm informs a student during a lecture, “Of all the serial killers that I’ve interviewed and studied, none of them were legally insane.”

    While 88 Minutes is not a great movie, it’s a helluva lot better flick than it’s gotten credit for. Leave your staid film theory at the door and make sure to bring plenty of popcorn. In an age in which movies are plumbed to gratuitous levels of manufactured profundity, 88 Minutes is as shallow as a kiddie pool—and just as refreshing.

    Robert L. Jones is a photojournalist living and working in Minnesota. His work has appeared in Black & White MagazineEntrepreneurHoy! New York, the New York PostRCA Victor (Japan)Scene in San AntonioSpirit Magazine (Canada), Top Producer,  and the Trenton Times. Mr. Jones is a past entertainment editor of The New Individualist.

    Topics: Dramas, Movie Reviews, Suspense Movies | No Comments »