88 MINUTES

R, 108 m., 2007

Director: Jon Avnet
Writer: Gary Scott Thompson
Stars: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Ben McKenzie

Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes is a would-be thriller – indeed, just about the dopiest, lamest, most contrived, and laughable film of its type in many a moon.

Al Pacino appears (stars indicates a certain luster this film lacks) as Dr. Jack Gramm, a womanizing college professor and FBI forensic psychiatrist who became famous for providing some of the convicting testimony in the trial of alleged serial rapist and torturer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) 9 years ago.

The film opens in 1997 with the attack which got Forster caught and helped convict him, and establishes early on the grudge Forster has against Gramm. Now, Gramm is a teacher at a Seattle college campus with students like his teaching aid Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt), the very intelligent law/criminal psychology student Lauren Douglas (Leelee Sobieski, who acted better in her underwear with no dialogue in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut back in 1999), and Mike Stempt (Benjamin McKenzie from TV’s The O.C.). His assistant is Shelly Barnes (Amy Brenneman), who is established as a lesbian for perhaps no other reason than to create a character who isn’t trying to throw herself at Gramm. Then there’s Carol Lynn Johnson (Deborah Kara Unger) and Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe) who are bound by the dictations of the plot to question Gramm at every turn (though they’re never right to).

The film’s plot kicks into gear (though which is beyond me) when Gramm gets a call telling him (with voice modulation of course) that he has 88 minutes to live (hence the title). He immediately thinks it must have something to do with Forster, whose crimes are being copycatted all over Seattle by someone either carrying out his will, or someone who was too clever to get caught and/or framed Forster for the original crimes.

Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) is a long-time producer (Sky Captain and Less Than Zero) turned sometime director (Red Corner and TV’s Boomtown). Working from a screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Avnet has hacked his way through a film that isn’t simply plot-driven but utterly and almost laughably dictated by plot; there isn’t a single line of dialogue that doesn’t have some “meaning” to the proceedings, and all of the actors say their lines in just that way.

As if that wasn’t enough, this is a film that attempts to shock and surprise the audience with twist after twist until we’re all twisted out; it’s arbitrary anyway, as you could just as easily pick a name out of a hat to come up with the perpetrator, and it would be just as ridiculous – they ought to have called this 88 Red Herrings because that’s about as many false leads are thrown at the audience through its 108 minute running time (allow 20 minutes or so before the first threatening phone call).

That’s another thing: if this is meant to more or less take place in “real time” (meaning it has a plot, the duration of which covers roughly 108 minutes in “reality”) then how is it possible for so much stuff to occur in such a short period of time? An episode of 24 is barely more realistic.

Al Pacino is a great actor, and I am sure he will want to put this film behind him as quickly as possible (I know I do), but one wonders if it would’ve even been released in theaters had he not been billed above the title (indeed, it was released in early 2008 in America after making a world tour of DVD releases in 2007). The rest of the cast is just about as embarrassing.

Note: Many reviews have mentioned Pacino’s hair as a major factor in how bad this film is; I agree, though that’s the least of its problems.

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Filed under 2008

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