Friday, January 02, 2009

88 Minutes Wasted

Unfortunately, I saw 88 MINUTES two days too late to make my Worst of 2008 list. It would have made the cut handily too.

After almost three years sitting on Tri-Star’s shelf and several overseas DVD releases, this absurd thriller finally unspooled in U.S. theaters in the spring of 2008. For sure, this Nu Image production would have gone directly to DVD had Al Pacino’s name not been attached to it. His performance is so rotten and his physical appearance so laughable that one can’t even argue in this case that Pacino’s presence adds class to the production. The worst criticism I can make of 88 MINUTES is that it isn’t even silly enough to be laughable. It’s sloppy, stupid, cheap, and ridiculous, but it’s never funny, intentionally or not.

Pacino is Dr. Jack Gramm, apparently the world’s sexiest forensic psychiatrist. In spite of the fact that he has an orange perma-tan, a towering bouffant constructed of plugs, and leathery 65-year-old skin, every hot chick in Seattle wants to make the beast with two backs with him. We first see Gramm awakening after a wild night with a young contortionist. Later, after a mysterious killer has made several death threats to him over the telephone, informing him of the precise time of his murder, his red-headed teaching assistant Kim (Alicia Witt) gets frisky with him. Is she the predator? Or is it Jack’s lesbian assistant Shelley (JUDGING AMY's Amy Brenneman)? Or the icy college dean (Deborah Kara Unger), who flirts with him? Hell, Gary Scott Thompson’s (FAST AND THE FURIOUS) screenplay is popping with red herrings, even a psycho ex-husband with the unlikely name of Guy LeForge (Stephen Moyer) comes around Gramm’s flat, pistol in hand.

Nine years after a clumsy prologue shows us two Asian-American twin sisters being tortured to death, Jon David Forster (Neal McDonough) faces lethal injection at midnight. The morning of his execution, Gramm, whose testimony was essential in earning Forster’s guilty verdict, receives a cell phone call telling him he has 88 minutes to live. Five minutes later, another call—83 minutes. And so on. And so on. I swear, half the movie is Pacino squawking on a cell phone. He breaks two of them.

Unlike any other—ahem—forensic psychiatrist/FBI consultant who ever lived, Pacino carries a Walther, pays a guy $100 to drive his taxi around the city, busts into apartments like Sonny Crockett, and generally runs around the city like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to find out who has him marked for death. That a series of copycat killings with evidence left behind that points to Gramm as the perpetrator doesn’t help, though only an imbecile like the FBI agent played by William Forsythe (OUT FOR JUSTICE) would believe it.

An embarrassing turn for nearly everyone involved, 88 MINUTES couldn’t possibly have been the best script on Pacino’s desk at the time, yet it’s the one he chose to do. He’s in every scene and has lots of them to himself (back to those cell phones), so maybe that was the lure. A bigger mystery is what the 21 (!) credited producers did to earn their credit on this movie. Pacino and director Jon Avnet teamed up with Robert DeNiro to make 2008’s RIGHTEOUS KILL. It's probably just as bad, but I can't wait to see it anyway.

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