88 Minutes (Germany/United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It's always a shock when a movie turns out to be this bad. It's an even bigger shock when it features an actor of the caliber and reputation of Al Pacino. 88 Minutes is one of the dumbest thrillers to arrive it theaters in a long time, so it's no surprise that it has been lingering on Columbia's shelves for more than a year. (It came out on DVD in Germany early in 2007.) The screenplay is credited to Gary Scott Thompson, but could have been written by a trained chimpanzee employing a "dial-a-cliché" computer program. Director Jon Avent gets into the general sense of badness by mangling continuity and Pacino does his part by sleepwalking his way through the role. The rest of the actors follow suit.

There's a certain compulsion that accompanies watching something as moronic as 88 Minutes. You know the experience is causing brain rot but you need to keep viewing to see just how ridiculous things will get. To the extent that this sort of masochistic exercise is the reason to sit through the movie, the ending does not disappoint. 88 Minutes saves the worst for last. And when I write "worst," I mean "worst." This movie doesn't settle for the mere mediocrity into which so many thrillers lie; it careens into a free-fall early in the proceedings and doesn't hit bottom until the end credits are ready to roll.

Pacino plays Dr. Jack Gramm, a world-renowned forensic psychiatrist who acts more like a cop or a P.I. than a shrink. He's frequently engaging in foot chases, waving around his i.d. like a badge, and being called in for consultations by the FBI. Typical psychiatrist stuff. He's also a party animal, having sex with any woman who smiles at him as long as she's not his gay assistant (Amy Brenneman), a student, or a patient. That rules out his T.A. Kim (Alicia Witt) as a bed-partner, even though she has the hots for him. So instead of sleeping with him, she spends the entire movie trailing after him asking inane questions and making obvious observations. Dr. Watson she is not. More like Ms. Plot Exposition.

The story revolves around a death row inmate named Jon Forster, who's getting ready to die by lethal injection as a result of Gramm's testimony. We don't actually hear the testimony but one can surmise it contained a few hoo-has since the jury convicted based almost exclusively on it. There's really no question of the man's innocence, though, since he's played by Neal McDonough, one of those actors who always gets the wacko/creep part. However, while Forster is behind bars figuring out what to order for his last meal, a copycat is at work on the streets of Seattle. Then Gramm gets a call from a Darth Vader-like voice (without the heavy breathing) informing him that he only has 88 minutes left to live. At that point, the movie shifts into real-time mode, although Jack Bauer does not make an appearance. (Wouldn't want to upstage Pacino any more than the Seattle scenery is doing.) Clues start showing up pointing to Gramm being involved in the recent spree of killings. So is the villain planning to kill him or frame him?

To be fair to Pacino, he's an arresting presence even when he's not trying - and he most definitely is not trying here. Still, not even he can pull off some of the lame dialogue he's saddled with. However, compared with the lines Alcia Witt has to deliver, Pacino is spouting Shakespeare. Witt does what one might reasonably expect from a competent actress under these circumstances: say the words without choking on them or laughing out loud. It's hard to write too unkindly about her performance when she is so spectacularly outshone in the bad acting department by Deborah Kara Unger, William Forsythe, and Leelee Sobieski. (Between this and her appearance for Uwe Boll, one has to wonder what happened to her career.)

Even though the plot is littered with more red herrings than a fish market, it's not difficult to figure out who the surprise secret villain is. The story's clumsy attempts to hide his/her identity serve only to highlight the guilty party. I suppose someone who has never seen a thriller/mystery might be shocked by the climactic unveiling. In his desperate attempts to confuse things and include as many twists as the running time will allow, screenwriter Thompson has left behind so many holes and dead-ends that the movie never seems to make much sense even when it's trying to be straightforward.

If it wasn't for Pacino's involvement, 88 Minutes would have landed directly on the DVD shelves, bypassing movie critics and theaters altogether. Columbia Pictures is banking on Pacino being a big enough draw that people won't care much about the lobotomized screenplay, the plastic acting, the incoherent direction and editing, and the overlong running time (88 minutes + a 20 minute prologue). Judging by what's been making money at the box office recently, the cynic in me must concede that they may be right.

88 Minutes (Germany/United States, 2007)

Director: Jon Avnet
Cast: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Neal McDonough, Leah Cairns
Screenplay: Gary Scott Thompson
Cinematography: Denis Lenoir
Music: Ed Shearmur
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:47
U.S. Release Date: 2008-04-18
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1