88 Minutes review, 88 Minutes DVD review
Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Benjamin McKenzie, Neal McDonough
Jon Avnet
88 Minutes

Reviewed by Will Harris



an you feel it? Can you feel the excitement surrounding the release of Al Pacino’s new thriller, “88 Minutes”? You can’t?

Hmmm. Must be because there isn’t any.

Certainly the most significant reason for that muted enthusiasm is the fact that the motion picture in question actually wrapped back in December 2005, then sat in the vault for more than a year before getting overseas distribution in 2007. Though not a hard and fast rule, it’s generally accepted that when a film which takes place in America and stars American actors is first dumped on an overseas market, it means that it has received a vote of no confidence from its studio and will soon be traveling the straight-to-video route. This time, however, someone at Sony/Tri-Star apparently said, “Oh, c’mon, surely theatergoers will pay to see a thriller starring Al Pacino!”

Rest assured, this is a statement that would only be uttered by someone who has not actually seen “88 Minutes,” which stands as one of the most implausible and needlessly complicated films in recent memory.

Pacino plays Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist and college professor who has studied and interviewed the likes of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy. His most controversial case, however, has been that of Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), a.k.a. The Seattle Slayer, who murdered several women in 1997…or did he? Is it possible that Dr. Gramm got the wrong man?

The film begins by giving us the opportunity to witness one of the Slayer’s original killings, preceded by a laughable attempt at establishing the year, with the characters moping about the death of Princess Di while the Backstreet Boys’ “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” plays in the background. When the deed finally goes down, it’s to be expected that the Slayer is engulfed in shadows as he ties up his victim, hangs her upside down, and gives her a bit of the old slice and dice, but although we the viewers can’t identify him, one of the victims survives and testifies that, yes, it was definitely Jon Forster. Although Forster is found guilty, there’s some question about how much Gramm coached her testimony, and when the film jumps ahead nine years and lands on the day of Forster’s scheduled execution, those concerns are still first and foremost on the minds of the media, who are sensationalizing his case, proclaiming the possibility of an innocent man being put to death. Gramm quickly finds himself caught up in the controversy in a very personal way, starting with a Seattle Slayer copycat – or possibly the real Slayer – murdering one of Gramm’s female students and implicating him in her death; things get even more tense when a mysterious caller informs him that, because of his actions in the Forster case, he now has only 88 minutes to live.

Not coincidentally, this is where things begin to fall apart in a big, big way.

Gramm, who sports a sharp goatee and the kind of tan which is usually possessed by people who introduce themselves as being natives of Oahu, is painted to be God’s gift to women. In his first post-flash-forward appearance, where he wakes up in his apartment with a hot one-night stand that likes to do nude yoga; his student assistant (Alicia Witt) has a crush on him; one of the whiz kids in his class (Leelee Sobieski) makes goo-goo eyes whenever she looks his way. He’s even once had a relationship with the dean (Deborah Kara Unger), for God’s sake! In fact, the only woman in the film who isn’t sexually attracted to him is his office manager, Shelly (Amy Brenneman), and that’s only because she’s lesbian. This isn’t an attempt to show realism in the workplace or make a statement in favor of gay rights, however; her sexual orientation exists solely because it makes the plot work.

Hey, at least that part of the plot does work.

“88 Minutes” is a film where every single character looks or acts suspicious at all times, offering more red herrings than are allowed within most states’ fishing limits and proving exhausting in its constant attempts to make you wonder, “Hey, is he the copycat killer? Or is she?” There are occurrences which would have required such precise timing that it’s inconceivable that anyone could’ve successfully pulled them off. There are so many elements to the plot that even Pacino sounds flustered when he attempts to deliver an explanatory speech. The film’s greatest failing, however, is that no one, not even Gramm, acts like he’s ostensibly been given a death sentence; there’s a ridiculous amount of casual, extraneous chatter, but the worst offense is when Gramm provides a slow and studied explanation about an event from his past. It is inconceivable that anyone in the audience could get through this scene without at least briefly thinking, “Good Lord, man, you’ve only got, like, ten minutes to live! Step up the pace!” It would, of course, be a major breach of critical etiquette to reveal the identity of the killer, but this much must be said: the person in question offers a preposterous performance in the climactic scene, and it cannot be entirely blamed on the awful dialogue they have been handed.

It’s always nice when a film’s title provides you with a perfect closing line for your review. There will be no comment offered about how “that’s 88 minutes of my life I’ll never get back,” however (the film’s run time is actually 108 minutes), so you’ll have to settle for this one instead: the name of the film might be “88 Minutes,” but the experience of watching it seems to go on for a lifetime.

Single-Disc DVD Review:

The single-disc release of “88 Minutes” is even more uninspired as the movie itself. All of the standard extras appear, including an audio commentary with director Jon Avnet (which includes sucking up to Al Pacino every few minutes) and an alternate ending that doesn’t change the conclusion so much as it provides better closure. Also included are short interviews with Avnet (“Director’s Point of View”) and Pacino (“The Character Within”) that are less about making the film than promoting it.

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