Since I am unable to go to the theatre this weekend I thought I’d give a preemptive review of the Al Pacino thriller 88 Minutes, set to drop in a city near you on April 18. Yes that is right, the film you may have been hearing about since February of last year, the one that has been released on DVD everywhere in the world, will finally be unveiled for us to check out stateside, in the country that produced it. You know that must mean this thing is a knockout masterpiece. Seriously, they should have just shelved it and made a home-video release, sparing us all the trouble and false hope we are seeing a new Pacino flick, (But can we really call it false hope? When was the last time he had a good film? Honestly). Instead a new generic thriller that feels more TV movie of the week than box-office barnburner fills up a spot at the local Cineplex that could be used for something more worthwhile, or at least a screen cleaning. Let’s just rotate an empty theatre for the week and get them all nice and clean, maybe even upgrade to those digital projectors that will be everywhere come 2009. All we need is the week, because I will cry if this thing is up for longer than that.
Even with quite the cast of B-list actors that I enjoy for the most part, this film can’t get past its overblown plot. Every step is so obvious that it appears the filmmakers decided to throw as much intrigue and confusion to try and mask the simplicity of it all. There is so much going on, so many characters just blipping across the frame, and the obligatory guilt close-up of each person trying to plant the “what if” seed that it becomes laughable. It is all so manufactured that you end up seeing through the bells and whistles anyways, so it all goes for naught. I will say one thing though, I had a couple good chuckles; the film wasn’t a complete waste. The gimmick to keep everything a possibility for villainy brings in some fantastic bit parts. My favorites include the creepy temp apartment desk clerk. His delivery is comic gold and the way he forebodingly speaks and stares is priceless. And lets not forget the cab driver. The one who gets those little green Benjamins thrown at him so that Pacino can drive his car; the phantom that disappears when our lead stops at green lights and discusses integral information with his teaching assistant yet reappears whenever we need the joke of him getting paid to be a prop to the film. I loved it.
Unfortunately not even the acting can be praised as something attempting to salvage the monotony. I know people dislike a film like Phone Booth and I myself see its flaws, but one thing you can’t deny is the fact that it had stakes and the characters portrayed the immediacy of each second. With this film, Pacino literally crawls through the mysteries. He ponders memories so often that you get sick of seeing the same flashback over and over again and he acts cool as a cucumber at all times, selflessly pulling his friends out of harms way like he is a firefighter and even helping an elderly woman out of a smoky building so she can receive oxygen. The best part of that sequence is the reality that the actress playing her is probably not much older than he, yet she has breathing problems and he gets to sleep with his 20-something college students. Oh to be Al.
Some people do a nice job and I don’t want to slight the pretty big cast of recognizable faces. William Forsythe plays his FBI agent role to a “t,” but it’s too bad it’s written horribly, very obviously towards the end when he has to choose whether to bring his friend into custody; Amy Brenneman is perhaps the best thing going here as our lead’s assistant, congrats to her for actually taking it seriously; and Neal McDonough is a great time as the man on death row supposedly orchestrating it all from behind bars, his maniacal smile is perfect. After those, however, we get some basic cardboard manifestations of very “complicated” characters. These people have such intriguing pasts that we need them to have monologues explaining all the minutia so we truly can know their motivations and either check them off or on the suspect list in our minds. I like Alicia Witt and have since her days on “Cybil,” but she is not portrayed well here. Maybe the camera just lingers too long on her gaping mouth of surprise expressions, or maybe she just had an off month filming, I don’t know. As for Leelee Sobieski, I don’t know if I can fault her because she is just completely miscast.
There was potential with this film about a man who puts murderers away with forensic psychology now accused of being a murderer himself. Unfortunately, that intriguing dynamic is thrown away early and we are given standard thriller clichés until the inevitable and unoriginal ending. I blame the producers for reading these scripts of rehashed plotlines and actually green-lighting them. Oh, and I also blame the general public for shelling out their money, thus making those deep-pocketed men to continue churning out generic drivel for once great thespians (debatable I know) to be able to cash a paycheck with.
88 Minutes 3/10 | ★