April 23, 2008

Movie Review: 88 Minutes

As we all know, movies come in all shapes in sizes. Within those shapes and sizes is an even wider range of variations. So, it is pretty safe to say that every movie will have someone who like it and someone who will hate it. 88 Minutes is no different than any other movie in that regard. It is a thriller that tries so hard to be smart that it cannot help but be dumb, it is a movie that plays it straight when it should have been tongue in cheek. Simply put, 88 Minutes zigged when it should have zagged. The end result is a movie that is bad, it is the kind of movie that will one day have a glorious commentary, courtesy of Riff Trax. It is the kind of movie that will have you rolling your eyes while watching it and shaking your head while exiting the theater. Want to know the strangest thing about this movie? It is still watchable. Yes, you read that right. Not that I would want to put myself through the experience again, mind you (unless I had that Riff Trax).

There is something mesmerizing in the goofy, over-the-top fashion in which the plot plays itself out. I cannot put my finger on it, but no matter how dumb and far-flung it gets, I could not tear my eyes off the screen. Perhaps it was how everyone, well, everyone save for that cabbie, is a suspect, perhaps it is how people keep trying to kill our "hero" before the 88 minutes are up, maybe it is how the "hero's" back story is told through repetitive flashbacks, or maybe it is just Al Pacino's gravity-defying/transforming hair. However you want to look at it, there is something that holds the attention, and whatever that something is, I am sure it will make for a great drinking game.

Going into the film there was an immediate sign of trouble, the tag-line. This promotional poster-tag just does not make much sense: " He has 88 minutes to solve a murder. His own." Do you see the problem here? It implies that he is already dead and must go back and solve it. What do they think this movie is? Another Crow sequel? I mean, there was a movie last year that had a similar tag-line and a high concept that made sense, that movie being The Invisible and bearing the line: "How do you solve a murder when the victim is you?"

Okay, enough about that, how about the film itself? The concept is simple enough, a forensic psychiatry professor's testimony played a key part in giving an accused murderer a death sentence in lieu of any real evidence. On the day of his execution, a copycat style murder is committed and the blame placed on the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist must then figure out the truth before he ends up imprisoned or dead. This movie takes it a step further by adding on the 88 minutes part.

Still with me? The movie opens with the initial gruesome murder followed by the damning testimony. Time jumps ahead a number of years to execution day and our psychiatrist, Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino), receives a call telling him he has 88 minutes to live. Now the fun begins as the new murder is uncovered and Jack is tormented by these phone calls and the appearance of the updated time limit pretty much wherever he goes. Will he figure it out in time?

This leads to one of the biggest problems, the script. The script tries way to hard to be edge-of-your-seat thrilling and not hard enough in developing the characters. Jack is given a reason to suspect all of his students, as well as a few other people who just happen to get in the way. It is all a little much. What is needed is fewer suspects, and those who still are, a little better development. Then there is the development portion of our story. None of the characters are interesting, we have no reason to care, and when things happen I had no reason to be concerned about their fates. This is a major issue for Pacino's character. We get flashes of his guilt about his sister, but they do nothing to further his depth, all they do is keep hammering the point home that we got the first time.

Ugh. The person behind the set-up is relatively easy to figure out. That is an easier task than trying to discern motivations. The title and that initial call seem to point towards Pacino's imminent death at the 88 minute mark, however, there seems to be a big push towards merely framing him, all while people try to kill him at every turn (including a runaway fire truck!). Which is it? Do you want to frame him or kill him? And couldn't you have at least given any of the characters something good to say?

This really is bad. The acting is terrible, although that may be caused by the screenplay. The direction is generic. The writing is bad, and enough cannot be said about that. Still,I could not tear my eyes away. I wish I could. The trainwreck was just to interesting in a "My brain is dying and I don't care." sort of way.

Bottomline. Al Pacino's phoned-in performance, and the lovely Alicia Witt make it bearable, but only barely. This movie sat on shelves for over a year (having reached DVD in Germany in early 2007), and with good reason. Something tells me it should have remained on the shelf.

Not Recommended.


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