Monday, April 21, 2008
Movie review: 88 Minutes
Director Jon Avnet's latest effort, 88 Minutes, opened this last weekend in theaters. The film features Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist and college professor who finds himself being stalked by an unknown killer as the clock ticks toward the execution of a man, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), who was convicted, nine years earlier, on the strength of Dr. Gramm's expert testimony.
The story begins with Dr. Gramm learning from FBI agents that a new killer has emerged: a killer whose modus operandi (binding his victims, suspending them from the ceiling, and then torturing and raping them) is reminiscent of that of the condemned man, raising the possibility that Gramm may have helped to convict an innocent. Soon thereafter, Gramm receives a call on his cell phone informing him that he has 88 minutes to live. Gramm sets about seeking the identity of the new killer and engaging the condemned man in a duel of wits by proxy.
Sound unlikely? You don't know the half of it!
This movie is so implausible, there are so many holes in the plot, that to single out any one of them would afford it too much significance. Avnet and script-writer Gary Scott Thompson tax the viewers mercilessly, demanding not just a suspension of disbelief, but an out-and-out vacation from reality. Doctor Gramm zips around downtown Seattle, narrowly avoiding a plethora of clumsy attempts on his life, all the while coordinating his investigative activities via cell phone, handing out instructions to his gay ex-wife and devoted administrative assistant, Shelly Barnes (Amy Brenneman) and his toady friend Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe). Meanwhile, the good doctor must hold at arms length his mysterious and dishy teaching assistant, Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt), and dodge her insanely jealous ex-boyfriend.
One ridiculously unlikely event follows another as Gramm rushes forward toward whatever it is that awaits him. A long succession of poorly sketched characters surface as possible suspects, only to be completely forgotten as they are rendered irrelevant by the next contrived twist. The audience quickly becomes intimately familiar with the ring tone of Gramm's cell phone (much of the dialog occurs in phone conversations) as frantic calls come in from his various minions, interspersed with taunts from the killer. ("Thirty-seven minutes left, Doc. Tick-tock.") Meanwhile, almost as asides, a car explodes from a planted bomb, a high-rise catches fire, a nutty stalker is shot to death and a salacious lesbian relationship is revealed. Dr. Gramm sails on through it all, cell phone at his ear.
I suppose it is a measure of Pacino's professionalism that he does seem to make the attempt at filling out the thinly-written role, but to the extent that he succeeds, it is more a function of his personal charisma than anything else. The rest of the cast, apparently, couldn't be bothered. There are some embarrassingly bad performances. But I can't blame the actors: what can one expect from a script that is so shockingly amateurish?
And why, pray tell, does a man who enjoys as much professional respect as Pacino agree to such roles? When you reach that level, it can't be because you really need the work.
Toward the end of the film, during the final confrontation between Dr. Gramm and the killer, the doctor, shocked at the rapid-fire rush of catastrophes that he has miraculously managed to avoid, asks incredulously "What's next?"
I found that I had been idly wondering the same thing for the previous 88 minutes.